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Having a baby can be one of life’s most exciting and rewarding experiences, but for a new mother it can also be an emotional rollercoaster – sometimes you’re up, and other times you’re down.

Recognising the symptoms of maternal anxiety and depression can be difficult, but with the help of a new app – developed by the University of South Australia and parent support group Village Foundation – thousands of women will be empowered to monitor their mental health, both during pregnancy and after birth.

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Mood matters

The YourTime app responds to priorities in perinatal (conception to first year) mental health by providing a digitalized tool that enables women to self-monitor and track their mood during pregnancy and early mothering, helping them to recognise early signs of deteriorating mental wellbeing, or acknowledge they’re doing well.

UniSA says this is the first evidence-based app to help women track their own mental wellbeing throughout pregnancy and after birth.

In Australia, up to one in five expectant or new mothers will experience perinatal anxiety or depression, with the illness affecting about 100,000 families each year.

UniSA’s Associate Professor of Midwifery, Lois McKellar

Immediate support

Lead researcher and midwife, UniSA’s Associate Professor Lois McKellar, says the new app will provide immediate support for women who may be struggling with low mood, or beginning to experience anxiety, and depression.

‘It’s natural for women to worry about the impending arrival of a new baby – they’re bringing a new life into the world, and they’re unsure about the changes that this little baby will bring,’ said Assoc. Prof. McKellar.

‘It’s also very common for new mothers to experience what is often called the “baby blues” – being a little teary or anxious in the immediate days and weeks after the baby’s birth,’ she said. ‘But if these feelings start to cause concern or stop a new or expectant mum from functioning normally, she may be experiencing perinatal anxiety or depression.

‘The YourTime app will help a woman keep track of how she’s feeling during pregnancy and motherhood, enabling her quickly recognise any changes in mood, behaviours or feelings, said Assoc. Prof. McKellar.

‘Guided by a midwife avatar, women will be able to monitor their wellbeing over time, access education and support materials, as well as connect to other women and mothers via a networking forum.

‘Importantly, it puts the woman in control, empowering her to be more aware of her thoughts and feelings.’

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Evidence-based

The YourTime app is based on scientific evidence and has been designed with input from mothers to ensure it is appealing and appropriate for today’s women. It offers a de-medicalised approach to wellbeing and encourages women to think more about their mental health.

Prof McKellar says the app’s designers hope to prevent women and mothers from slipping between the gaps, especially when their focus is on supporting their new baby.

‘A generation ago, post-natal depression was often brushed off as the “baby blues”, even when it was actually something more,’ said Assoc. Prof. McKellar.

‘Now, people are more aware of perinatal depression and anxiety, but the supports are not always available at their fingertips.

‘This app will ensure women feel connected, supported and informed at any time of the day or night – even at a midnight feeding – which makes it an extremely appealing tool to support mental health and wellbeing,’ she said.

A prototype version of the YourTime will soon be available for trial.

Right now, UniSA is launching a new Mental Health Research Fund to help tackle critical frontline issues like this. To find out more, visit: www.unisa.edu.au/mentalhealth.