Meet the team
Dr Heather Rowe
Senior Research Fellow
Dr Heather Rowe is a health scientist with a background in the biological sciences, specifically in population genetics, and the psychological sciences. She joined the Global and Women’s Health team at its inception in 2011. Her research centres on the intersection between women’s reproductive health and mental health, and the role of health services in promoting physical and mental wellbeing. She has projects in health promotion and evaluation, health professional education, and health services research.
The Women’s Health movement was a huge driver of her pursuit of a career in women’s health research. The movement challenges the medical model of women’s health that is limited by biological models of causation and treatment. It recognises the importance of psychosocial circumstances in understanding all aspects of health and health care she says.
“It also foregrounds safe motherhood, which includes ready access to contraception and abortion as well as safe childbirth. Central to all of this is gender equality,” says Dr Rowe.
“The provision of high-quality women’s health services is paramount. A comprehensive service addresses the cultural and social as well as biological aspects of women’s health,” she says.
Postnatal mental health problems among women are associated with morbidity, reduced social participation, and impaired infant development and family functioning. These problems are an Australian public health priority.
Dr Rowe’s current work includes a Department of Families Fairness and Housing-funded postnatal psychoeducational program, known as What Were We Thinking in rural Victoria. She is also leading a project to strengthen mental health capacity and service integration in primary postnatal care in Victoria, funded by the Monash Partners Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) Rapid Applied Research Translation round.
“Postnatal mental health problems among women are associated with morbidity, reduced social participation, and impaired infant development and family functioning. These problems are an Australian public health priority,” says Dr Rowe.
What Were We Thinking is a carefully researched, evidence-based set of materials and activities designed to promote confidence and reduce distress in parents with a first baby. A key aspect of its success lies in its non-stigmatising format and involvement of fathers and non-birth parents says Dr Rowe.
“It also facilitates professional development for clinicians, crucial skill-building for new parents, and prevention of mental health problems,” she says. “Creating tools to assist health services to be more ‘joined-up’ to help women who have just given birth get the care they need when they need it is an important goal”.
Dr Rowe believes the most pressing global women’s health concerns are reducing maternal mortality, including unsafe abortion, and making culturally- and psychologically-safe health services available, accessible and affordable. She notes there is still much work to be done.
Dr Rowe believes that the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted a better understanding of how public health works, how a person’s own behaviour affects other people, and the balance between individual freedom and the common good.