MHPN expanding online-only networks

24 September 2020  Connect

MHPN network coordinators are leading the initiative to set up online-only networks. Online networks open up opportunities where distance, or the lack of number of professionals in a geographical area, can prevent clinicians from meeting.

Online networks share some of the same aims as face-to-face networks, whether those networks are currently meeting in-person or temporarily online, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They cater to mental health professionals across Australia including in rural and remote areas; niche practitioners who are spread out geographically; and clinicians with a special interest in areas looking to establish regional or nationwide networks.

Mental health clinicians practicing in rural and remote regions are encouraged to start or join online-only networks as a way to connect, learn and build their professional networks.

Psychologist Ms Kimberley Lipschus set up one of the first online-only networks - Reproductive Health Online Network – which started meeting in May 2020.

Kimberley was inspired to set up the online-only network after she helped organise the first online meeting for the Byron Bay Family & Relationships Mental Health Network in New South Wales (NSW).

‘There is no us or them in this situation. In essence, we must be supporting one another as practitioners and our respective communities. If we hold this as the central motivation, then there can only be a level playing field and openness in knowing we can learn from one another’, says Kimberley.

The reproductive network’s first meeting in May brought together an interdisciplinary panel consisting of psychiatrist Dr Anne Sved Williams; Professor Hannah Dahlen, AM; perinatal and infant psychologist Dr Bronwyn Leigh; senior midwife Ms Amanda Liddell; and obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Vijay Roach.

They discussed the timely subject of ‘Navigating The Perinatal Landscape Through COVID-19: An Online Forum’.

A panellist’s perspective

MHPN staffer Sarah Hickey ‘sat down’ with Anne via videoconferencing to talk about the online meeting; being a coordinator; and interdisciplinary care in perinatal and infant mental health.

Anne has been a MHPN network coordinator for over 10 years, at the helm of the PIGLET (Perinatal and Infant Group – Liaison, Education and Training)  Mental Health Network which has regular meetings based on guest presentations; case studies; panel discussions; peer support; or community development.

She is a consultant psychiatrist at South Australia’s Mother-Baby Unit, Helen Mayo House, Perinatal and Infant Mental Health Services, Women’s and Children’s Health Network, SA; and Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of Adelaide, SA.

Her research on perinatal borderline personality disorder has led to her writing a picture-story book for small children in families with this condition and information is available at wchfoundation.org.au.

Anne was impressed with the mental health literacy of the panellists who were mostly frontline clinicians, and while she was familiar with Dr Roach’s expertise, the mental health knowledge of the highly experienced midwives was a significant contribution.

‘I assumed my role would be to talk about the psychological care of the women. Their understanding of the psychological aspects that are necessary for midwifery care were quite brilliant. It’s clear that we have made an impact in wide dissemination of knowledge to people working within the field and that the psychological care of women is incorporated. I was listening to the empathy with which people in senior teaching positions are introducing their students to the holistic approach to patients. It's very good’.

Anne explains that the networking and interpersonal aspects of face-to-face meetings are harder to replicate online but they’re not impossible.

Her working style has always been interactive, whether it’s on a hospital ward, in private practice, teaching or at a MHPN network meeting.

For instance, Anne says, videoconferencing meetings or seminars can be more personal when presenters, rather than speaking at length, ask attendees questions and seek questions from attendees.

She is confident that many coordinators will have gained experience with telehealth enough to master the technology so that the simultaneous task of convening the meeting will be less daunting.

MHPN project officers are available every step of the way to guide coordinators through organising meetings and using the associated technology.

Get involved

  • The Reproductive Health Online Network’s next meeting will be a meet and greet session. For details, please contact project officer Holly Carey via h.carey@mhpn.org.au.
  • Do you want to start a clinician-led network? MHPN supports networks that are face-to-face, online or a mix of both. Send us an email at networks@mhpn.org.au to get started.