Program supports new mums with their mental, emotional and social wellbeing

Following a successful pilot phase, a new Canberra Health Services therapy program helping new mothers who are struggling with complex social and emotional difficulties has been extended.

The $597,300 Mother-Infant Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Program, funded through the 2023/2024 Budget, is a 24-week program that includes weekly group work and individual therapy to support mums with children under two-years-of-age learn how to best manage their emotions and behaviours.

Dialectical behaviour therapy, primarily designed to support individuals with borderline personality disorder, aims to help individuals build skills for regulating emotions, improving interpersonal relationships, and coping with distressing situations.

Minister for Mental Health Emma Davidson said the program, run by the Perinatal Infant Mental Health Consultation Service (PIMHCS), is an important service to make parenting a cherished life experience that strengthens family bonds for mothers with underlying mental health conditions.

“Having children can be both a joy and a challenge. For people in our community who already face complex mental health challenges, parenthood can be an especially challenging experience,” said Minister Davidson.

“For mothers who have pre-existing mental health conditions, they may experience big waves of emotions that can be hard to manage. They can also find it difficult to connect with and understand their emotions, may struggle with relationships, or experience confusion with who they are and what they want in life.

“The program helps mothers understand and better manage these challenges through strategies such as mindfulness, emotional regulation, distress tolerance and interpersonal effectiveness, to reduce and change behaviours that can be life threatening, self-harming or negatively impact their quality of life.

“I look forward to seeing the difference this program makes for its participants and how it is best tailored and expanded to meet community need.”

The program has been adapted from a more traditional Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Program by including specific skills for new mums and parenting. There is onsite childcare, so mums can participate in the sessions with the other mums but also spend some of the time practising skills directly with their babies.

New mothers on the waitlist will have access to person-centred pre-treatment while they wait to join.

Quotes attributable to Dr Philip Keightley, Psychiatrist, Perinatal Infant Mental Health Consultation Service (PIMHCS):

“We now know that the first 1000 days of life, that’s from conception until the age of two, is a critical time in infant brain development; where interactions with our own parents and carers teach us about our emotions, and how to regulate them.

“This is a program adapted from one running successfully for many years in South Australia. Feedback from participants has so far been very positive. These are mothers who really want to learn how to do a better job of helping their baby learn about emotions than what they might have experienced themselves.”

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