Maternal mortality associated with psychiatric illness in the perinatal period (pregnancy to the end of the first year postpartum) has until recently been under-reported in Australia due to limitations in the scope of the data collection and methods of detection.
The recent United Kingdom report Why mothers die 2000–2002 identified psychiatric illness as the leading cause of maternal death in the UK.
Findings from the last three reports on maternal deaths in Australia (covering the period 1994–2002) suggest that maternal psychiatric illness is one of the leading causes of maternal death, with the majority of suicides occurring by violent means.
Such findings strengthen the case for routine perinatal psychosocial screening programs, with clear referral guidelines and assertive perinatal treatment of significant maternal psychiatric morbidity.
Data linkage studies are needed to measure the full extent of maternal mortality associated with psychiatric illness in Australia.
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