Supporting Perinatal Mental Health

It’s no secret that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on our mental health. So, in the December issue of Retail Pharmacy Assistants magazine we speak with the CEO of PANDA, Julie Borninkhof, to learn how the pandemic has affected some of those most vulnerable: expecting and new parents.

Can you tell us about the organisation? What is PANDA and what is its purpose?

PANDA stands for Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia. We were born just over 35 years ago at the kitchen table of two women who had themselves been experiencing vulnerability after the birth of their babies.

From there PANDA grew.

Our organisation is very much centred around lived experience, which is the heart of everything we do.

We have 340 community champions currently, and they help us build and develop everything we do.

The mental health checklist that’s on our website was born two years ago, which more than 50,000 people have now completed.

It was all designed by people with lived experience, alongside of us.

So, we operate a pure collaboration model. And around that we now deliver solid mental health services, both through a clinical mental health model [and] a volunteer or peer-support model also.

The organisation operates at a policy level also.

We’re very keen to ensure that the voice of lived experience helps inform the way the health system evolves and matures.

Our community champions have helped support the royal commission into mental health services in Victoria this year and, have taken part in advisory groups and submitted papers to those.

We’ve also based our submission to the Productivity Commission using the voice of lived experience.

We’re very much still an advocacy agency, but the predominant amount of activity that we’re funded for is our national helpline.

Who is typically affected by perinatal mental health issues? Is there a difference in how this affects women versus men?

Prior to Covid-19, within Australia approximately one in five mums were experiencing anxiety and/or depression.

And we say ‘and/or’ because quite often they occur together. We also know that one in 10 dads experience anxiety and/or depression during the perinatal period.

Interestingly though, because we rely heavily on screening within our service system to be able to capture that data, and we know there’s been a significant investment in this … the hospital system is really well placed to currently undertake screening when mums’ deliver babies, [but] we also know that in Australia we don’t have a good mandatory screening program for dads.


We don’t really have anything but ad-hoc and in-the-moment screening for men in the event that they’re showing signs or struggle.

So, we could quite easily say that the one in 10 men that are affected may well be [a case of] under-reporting, because we’re just not screening as heavily.

What has the impact of Covid-19 been on perinatal mental health?

We’ve seen a doubling of people reaching out, or new callers reaching out, for support through PANDA’s helpline.

We’ve had a significant overrun in the number of callers, which has been both a wonderful thing – that people know they can seek support from us – and a concerning one because it’s as a result of the increased stress and anxiety triggers that people are experiencing.

How can pharmacy assistants help those who are suffering from perinatal mental health issues?

Pharmacy assistants … are just fundamental to ensuring that people accessing those services and supports are skilled and equipped.

We know that they often do the lion’s share of work and I think it’s really important that … pharmacy assistants know that there are really valuable free resources on the PANDA website.

We have amazing tools and resources around what is perinatal mental vulnerability, how can you recognise it.

There are tools and resources that people can print off and give to consumers.

To read the full feature as it appears in the December issue of Retail Pharmacy Assistants magazine, visit: