A mental illness is a clinically diagnosable disorder that impairs an individuals’ cognitive, emotional and/or social abilities1. There are various types and severities of mental illnesses. It is estimated that around half of the Australian adult population will experience a mental illness in their lifetime and that approximately 1 in 5 adults have experienced a mental illness in the last 12 months2.
The most common mental illnesses experienced by mothers in this period are major depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders3. Children whose mothers have a perinatal mental health disorder (22 completed weeks of gestation to 1 year after birth) are at increased risk of developmental and psychological disturbances such as; depression and anxiety, emotional regulation problems, poorer social behaviour, insecure attachment, increased behaviour problems and impaired physical and cognitive development3,4. This likely results from a combination of genetic inheritance and environmental risk factors associated with a parent having a mental illness5,6. Research has indicated that treatment of maternal mental illness (counselling or drug) can improve attachment between mother and child7.
In addition to biological and psychological factors, mental health is related to a range of social factors such as economic disadvantage, poor housing, a lack of social support and access to health services2. Therefore, understanding the number of births to mothers with a mental illness in particular geographic regions, especially when examined alongside information about social factors, can inform policy to help improve perinatal mental health care.
- Australian Government: Department of Health [Internet]. 1.4 - National Mental Health Plan 2003-2008. 2005 [cited 2018 Jun 4]. Available from: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/publications/publishing.nsf/Content/mental-pubs-n-infopri2-toc~mental-pubs-n-infopri2-pt1~mental-pubs-n-infopri2-pt1-4
- Australian Bureau of Statistics [Internet]. Canberra ACT. 4326.0 - National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results. 2007 [cited 2018 Jun 4]. Available from: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/4326.0
- O’Hara M, Wisner K. Perinatal mental illness: definition, description and aetiology. Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology. 2014; 28(1):3-12. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bpobgyn.2013.09.002
- Stein A, Pearson R, Goodman S, Rapa E, Rahman A, Mccallum M, et al. Effects of perinatal mental disorders on the fetus and child. The Lancet, 2014; 384(9956). Avialble from: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(14)61277-0
- Reupert A, Maybery D, Kowalenko N. Children whose parents have a mental illness: Prevalence, need and treatment. The Medical Journal of Australia, 2013; 199(3):7-9. Available from: https://doi.org/10.5694/mja11.11200
- Maybery D, Ling L, Szakacs E, Reupert A. Children of a parent with a mental illness: Perspectives on need. Australian e-Journal for the Advancement of Mental Health, 2005; 4(2):78-88. Available from: https://doi.org/10.5172/jamh.4.2.78
- Cooper PJ, Murray L. Fortnightly review: Postnatal depression. British Medical Journal. 1998;316(7148):1884. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.316.7148.1884
Mental Health Information System, Hospital Morbidity Data Collection, Emergency Department Data Collection
Live births where mother had a mental illness diagnoses 12 months prior to, or 12 months post, child's birth
All live births
Unit of Measure
Per cent (%)
SA2, SA3, LGA
Areas with count values 1 to 4 and where population is less than 50 have been supressed
Emergency Department data only available from 2002 onwards.
Does not capture mothers with mental illness diagnoses seen only in private outpatient clinic or by GP. Also does not capture untreated/undiagnosed mental illness.
Mental illness diagnoses for mothers were identified using the following ICD classification codes: