Women's and Children's Hospital, Adelaide

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS)

Helen Mayo House

Information for Mothers and Families


Inpatient services: What we do.

Helen Mayo House provides inpatient services for mothers who have significant mental health problems following the birth of a baby and up until their infant is 3 years old. Mental health problems, such as severe Depression, Anxiety or psychotic illness such as Puerperal Psychosis and Bipolar Mood Disorder, are considered to be significant if they impact on the mother’s ability to function in everyday life and to care for their child.

If you have an admission to HMH you can expect an average stay of 2-3 weeks. However you may have a longer or shorter admission depending on your needs. During this time the HMH team, including Psychiatrists, Nurses, a Clinical Psychologist, a Social Worker and a Mother Infant Therapist, will provide medical and therapeutic support for you and your child.

At the time of admission assessments are carried out by staff and treatment programs are tailored according to you and your child’s individual needs. Most mothers will require medication or other therapies for managing their illness; this will be discussed with you by staff.

If appropriate, the staff will work with you using cognitive therapies or other psychological counselling programs to assist you and your child. You may also participate in Mother Infant Therapy sessions to support the bond and attachment between you and your child. Other family members may also be invited to participate in these sessions to contribute to your recovery.

During your time at HMH it is likely that you, and often your family, will work with staff to strengthen your community supports. You may also like to participate in various group programs run on the ward. Groups include activities such as relaxation, craft, journaling and baby song groups.

As HMH is the starting point for your road to recovery, discharge planning is an integral element of the HMH service. HMH staff will work with you and your family to identify and negotiate referrals to community based supports, services and follow up care once you leave HMH. Services may include regular GP contact, Post Natal Depression and parenting groups, Psychiatrist and/or Psychologist follow up, Child and Family Health Services, child care assistance packages and Centrelink support (if eligible). 

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HMH team

  • Medical Unit Head – Dr. Anne Sved-Williams
  • Clinical  Services Coordinator – Sue Ellershaw
  • Consultant Psychiatrist – Dr. Georgie Swift
  • Psychiatry Registrar
  • Paediatric Registrar  (1 day per week)
  • Nursing staff (day & night)
  • Allied Health: Social Worker, Mother-Infant Therapist, Psychologist
  • Students (often Nursing, Medical, Midwifery, Occupational Therapy, Social Worker, Psychology)
  • Patient Services Assistants
  • Administrative Assistants

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Coming into HMH

In order to come to HMH you will need to be seen by a either a medical practitioner or a mental health clinician. If it is decided that an inpatient stay in hospital is going to be to best for you and your infant a referral will be made to HMH. Once you are referred it is likely that you will be placed on a waiting list. Unfortunately HMH is unable to assist you with emergencies or provide support to you during this time. However the Support Services section of this page provides you with some suggested services and contacts that can. HMH advises that during this time you maintain regular contact with your referrer and/or GP for support.

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Your Rights & Responsibilities

HMH wants to provide you and your family with the best level of care and attention whist accessing our service. As a consumer of our service you have the right:

  • To be treated with respect and dignity.
  • To have your privacy respected and to have all identifying information kept confidential.
  • To have your ethnic, cultural and religious practices and your beliefs respected.
  • To be advised of your rights as a consumer in a language you understand.
  • To be involved in planning and decisions about you and/or your child’s healthcare.
  • To be treated with care and skill by appropriately qualified staff in a timely manner.
  • To know the name, position, qualifications and experience of your service provider(s).
  • To receive accurate, relevant and up to date information.
  • To have your consent obtained before going ahead with treatment.
  • To involve an advocate of your choice.
  • To request other medical opinions and information.
  • To have access to an interpreter if required.
  • To refuse health care and not explain the reasons for your choice.
  • To give feedback or make a complaint and receive a timely response.

The care that HMH provides you reflects certain principles; you have the responsibility to assist with your care by;

  • Treating staff with dignity, courtesy and respect.
  • Giving accurate and truthful information about you and your child’s health.
  • Informing us if your personal information or health condition changes.
  • Attending appointments or advising us if you cannot.
  • Asking for health care information or explanations where needed or if you don’t understand.
  • Following the instructions for treatment or inform us if you intend not to.
  • Accepting the consequences if you refuse treatment.
  • Recognise the effects of your lifestyle choices on you and/or your child’s health.

Additional information regarding your rights and responsibilities is available to you from HMH and will be discussed with you at time of admission.

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What to expect

Often when women are waiting to come into HMH they may experience a range of feelings such as anxiety, fear and uncertainty.  It is normal to be apprehensive and feeling uneasy about coming to a new place when you already feel poorly – this is a common reaction for many people seeking mental health services or other health services. Some women may feel relief at the prospect of receiving professional support in an inpatient environment. The following information is designed to ease your anxieties and provide you with information to prepare for coming to HMH. We encourage you to talk about these feelings with your family and/or GP.

A common story: The following story is not based on any one individual experience, rather a collection of women’s stories who have come into HMH over the past 25 years.

John and Annalese unexpectedly became parents for the first time 3 months ago, to a healthy baby girl, Jessica.  Since Jessica’s birth, Annalese felt constantly low, teary and unable to sleep even when she had the chance. Annalese became increasingly anxious and felt that she was a failure of a mother especially when Jessica was unsettled and was crying. Annalese often felt that she was a bad mother and was not the right person to care for Jessica because other people were able to settle Jessica. Annalese felt that she ‘never knows what Jessica wants, she just never stops crying – I can’t do anything right. I don’t think she loves me’. Annalese felt that the worst times of the day were when John was at work, she describes John as a good father to Jessica ‘ he always knows what to do with her, she likes him more than me – sometimes I think they’d be better off without me’. As time went by Annalese stopped seeing friends, going out and became resentful of Jessica and John’s relationship.

John became increasingly worried about Annalese, he had heard about Post Partum Depression from a work colleague and encouraged Annalese to see their GP. The GP agreed that Annalese was suffering from Post Partum Depression and reassured her that what she was feeling wasn’t because she was a bad mum or that Jessica didn’t love her – it was because of a common and treatable mental illness. The GP discussed the options of anti-depressant medication, psychological therapy and possible admission to an inpatient mental health unit with John and Annalese. They decided together that a referral to an inpatient mental health and mother-baby unit, where Annalese and Jessica could be together, would be best. The GP made a referral to Helen Mayo House and in the mean time Annalese continued to see the GP once a week and began taking medication.

Although Annalese wasn’t able to be admitted immediately she was supported by her family, child and family health service and GP while she waited for a bed at HMH. One day Annalese received a phone call from Helen Mayo House offering her a bed. Annalese was relieved but also nervous about the admission. John shared her concerns as they were both unsure about what to expect. They didn’t know what would happen once Annalese and Jessica were at HMH and what John’s role was while they were staying there. They found many of their questions were answered by looking at the HMH website and talking with the HMH staff. When they arrived at HMH Annalese was pleased to find that she had her own room separate from the communal dining room and shared kitchen, and nursery.

Annalese felt she spent most of the first few days resting and looking after Jessica.  HMH staff spent time talking with Annalese and supporting her to care for Jessica. Through this the staff were able to gain a good idea of what was happening for Annalese and Jessica. The staff used a range of on medical, psychological and social supports to assist Annalese in her recovery. Annalese worked with staff to set goals for herself and Jessica.  Annalese and Jessica participated in mother infant therapy sessions and often joined in the groups run in the unit. John was able to visit every night after work and have dinner with Annalese and Jessica. John was also involved in some therapy sessions with his family.  Annalese and Jessica spent 2 and ½ weeks at HMH, where Annalese began her journey to overcome her Post Partum Depression and built up the confidence to care for Jessica. When it was time for Annalese to go home HMH staff helped organise supports in the community for her. Annalese and Jessica now regularly attend mother and baby groups together and enjoy spending time as a family. Annalese still has some ‘bad’ days but says they are much less than before.

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Mothers who come to Helen Mayo House usually find it helpful to know what facilities are provided and what to bring in when they are admitted. The following is just a guideline of what may be provided for you. However we encourage you to check this information with HMH staff prior to admission.

The Helen Mayo House unit is located on the Glenside Campus. Helen Mayo House has 6 individual rooms, 2 nurseries and shared dining, kitchen, laundry and play areas. Enclosed playpen areas are set up inside and equipped with lots of toys for children to play with. The unit also has an enclosed outdoor play area for children with play equipment, swings, sand pit and a grassed area.

What is provided?

What do I need to bring?

  • Breakfast, lunch and dinner each day (for adults)
  • Adult and child bed linen and towels
  • Bassinets, cots, high chairs, prams, indoor and outdoor play equipment, baby baths, change tables
  • Bottle disinfection equipment is available
  • Baby Food
  • Change mats, wet-ones for baby changing and skin-care products for baby baths
  • Clothes for you and your baby
  • Toiletries including sanitary napkins and breast pads
  • Infant formula and food if the HMH food  is not suitable for toddlers
  • Baby bottles and disposable nappies
  • Parents of bottle-fed babies are requested to provide their own bottles, infant formula & microwave sterilizer if they have one


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Resources Available

  • Communal TV & DVD player
  • DVDs & Videos- ranging from classic movies to educational programs.
  • Books- light reading and educational books for adults and children.
  • Reference Library- books, videos and DVDs providing information on parenting and various mental health problems like depression and anxiety.
  • Activities to pass the time- including jewellery making, painting, door plates, and play dough recipe making.

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What will I need to do?

When you come to HMH it is an expectation that you will be the main carer for your child/children and attend to their day and night care if you are well enough. HMH understands that this may be difficult for some mothers and that you may need some time to settle into the ward. Staff are available 24/7 to negotiate, assist and support you to develop the skills, confidence and routines you need to provide care for your child/children.

You will be required to attend to the physical and emotional needs of your child/children whilst at HMH. You will be supported to develop and explore your emotional attachment and bond with your child/children on the unit and in Mother-Infant Therapy sessions. You will also engage in therapy and groups with the Mother – Infant Therapist, Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Social Worker and Nurses.   Partners, other children and extended family are in many instances invited to participate in family orientated therapy sessions.

The average length of stay for mothers at HMH is 2-3 weeks; however longer or shorter admissions may be necessary depending on your individual needs.  You should not expect to be ‘cured’ as the road to recovery can be long. HMH serves as an intensive starting point on your road to recovery by making some inroads into managing and overcoming some of your mental health issues. A discharge plan will be negotiated between you, HMH staff and community services in order to support you in continuing on you road to recovery at home, after discharge.

The information below highlights some of the specific things that will be expected of you while you are at HMH. Staff will also be available 24/7 to support you in meeting these expectations:

  • All parents are responsible for the care and well being of their children at all times, unless otherwise negotiated with staff.
  • Staff are available at all times to assist and support the parents with the care of their baby but NOT to assume the carer role of your baby.
  • All parents are responsible for the provision of and preparation of their baby’s feeds/formulae etc. Baby food is provided for you, however if this is not suitable for your baby you will need to provide your own.
  • Babies are NOT to co sleep with their parent(s) under any circumstances while in Helen Mayo House; Cots and bassinets are provided for you.
  • Parents, if well enough, are responsible for the daily sterilisation of all equipment- sterilisation products are provided by HMH for your use.
  •  Parents, if well enough, are responsible for cleaning up after their baby, visiting children and themselves including cleanliness of high chairs, baby baths, changing tables etc with the provided detergent solution after each use.
  • You are responsible for you and your baby’s laundry. Facilities are available on the ward for your use, detergents are also provided.
  • Smoking is NOT permitted on hospital grounds at any time. Please note that for safety reasons the ward is locked at night and permission to leave hospital grounds for smoking will not be given. However staff can offer you nicotine replacement / alternatives (i.e. nicotine patches etc).
  • Personal belongings and valuable items are to be kept in your room and HMH cannot be held liable for such items. It is advised that such items be sent home with family members or kept in the safe in the Nurses’ Station.

More detailed expectations, responsibilities and questions may be further discussed at time of admission.

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Other Children and Partners

HMH acknowledges the unique and valued role of mothers, fathers, partners and other main caregivers in the attachment and development of children, and understands the effect separation may have on relationships and family dynamics – particularly between the parents. 

In certain circumstances partners of clients are able to board at HMH. This must be negotiated with HMH staff. HMH reserves the right to ask partners to leave the premises at any time if their behaviour is deemed inappropriate or their presence is damaging to the therapeutic environment of the unit (see Behaviour Criteria).  Partners are expected to fully participate in the care of their child and partner. A small boarding fee may be requested to cover the cost of food.  

Children over the age of 3 years old are not admitted with you to HMH, however supervised visitation is encouraged. Visiting caregivers are responsible for older children’s supervision in the unit and outdoor area. If staff feel that it is unsafe or behaviour is becoming unmanageable the parents will be asked for the children to leave the ward. In these circumstances the safety, infection control, management of ward milieu and the therapeutic environment for all staff, clients and babies is considered.

Child care for toddlers admitted to Helen Mayo House may be able accessible through The Grove Kindergarten. This can be negotiated with staff upon admission; however childcare for toddlers is subject to availability and at the discretion of the Kindergarten.

Visiting hours are between 3pm and 8pm for family and friends though appointments may be made for family members at other times.

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Behaviour Criteria

Behaviour from any mother, partner/boarder or visitor to HMH that negatively impacts on themselves, children on the ward or on other clients will not be tolerated; i.e. aggression, violence, abuse of any form, self harm and substance abuse. Visitors exhibiting these behaviours will be asked to leave the unit. Clients exhibiting these behaviours will be either discharged or transferred to another unit as deemed appropriate for their circumstance.

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Substance Use

Illicit drug and alcohol use is not tolerated at Helen Mayo House at any time. Admissions to HMH will not be considered for mothers who are experiencing drug and alcohol dependence or withdrawal. Clients requiring admission to HMH and who are drug or alcohol dependent will be required to complete a detox program with supporting evidence from the detox program co-ordinator or GP provided to HMH prior to admission. Please contact Drugs and Alcohol Services South Australia (DASSA) for details on detox programs and treatment options on 1300 13 13 40, for 24 hour confidential telephone counselling and information. Alternatively the Family Drug Support Help Line on 1300 368 186.

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Mandatory Notifiers

All staff and students at HMH are mandatory notifiers and Staff are required by law to make a notification to the Families SA Child Abuse Report line if there is reason to suspect any form of child abuse (physical, emotional, sexual, neglect).

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Helen Mayo House is a tertiary teaching service providing students from all 3 Universities with practical clinical learning experiences. As such, HMH regularly hosts students from a variety of disciplines in their last years of study for clinical placements. Students take a fully supervised active role in the delivery of clinical, therapeutic and project management services at HMH.

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Alternative support services for Mothers and Families in South Australia


  • Doctor/GP
  • Health professional
  • Maternal Child Health Centre
  • Obstetrician

Information and Help Lines

  • beyondblue info line 1300 22 4636 (local call)
  • Parent Helpline 1300 364 100
  • Women’s Healthline 1300 882 880
  • Lifeline 13 11 14
  • SANE Australia Helpline 1800 18 7263
  • Australian Psychological Society Referral Line 1800 333 497
  • MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78
  • Kids Helpline 1800 551 800
  • Relationships Australia 1300 364 277
  • Carers Australia 1800 242 636
  • Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467

Support Services

  • GROW Support Groups 1800 558 268
  • Post and Antenatal Depression Association (PaNDa) 1300 726 306
  • Pregnancy Help Line 1300 655 156

Details are correct at time of publication. Services subject to change without notice.

Beyond blue - http://www.beyondblue.org.au

Parenting Helpline http://www.parenting.sa.gov.au/helpline/

Women's health line www.whs.sa.gov.au

Life Line http://www.lifeline.org.au/

SANE Australia http://www.sane.org/

Australian Psychological Society Referral http://www.psychology.org.au/ReferralService/About/

MensLine http://www.menslineaus.org.au/

Relationships Australia http://www.relationships.com.au/

Carers Aus http://www.carersaustralia.com.au/

Suicide Call Back Service http://www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au/

GROW http://www.grow.net.au/igrow/index.php

PANDA http://www.panda.org.au/

Practical Support

It may also be helpful for you to have some practical help around your home and in caring for your children. Nanny SA is one service that can help, however we encourage you to talk with your family, friends and health professionals about other sources of practical support.

Nanny SA Phone: 08 8132 1800
Fax: 08 8132 1802
Email: enq@nannysa.com.au

Nanny SA provides skilled professional carers to families around South Australia. The head office is in Adelaide and a country office is located in Port Augusta. Nanny SA specialises purely in the care of children in emergency, occasional and respite situations. Respite and support services are available from Nanny SA for families and extended family carers. 

Services provided include:

  • Nanny/Carer Services
  • Nannies part time and full time
  • Before and after school care
  • Mother’s help
  • Babysitters
  • Emergency care

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last modified: 14 Feb 2017