Meet the team

Finkel Professor for Global Health, Jane Fisher AO

Professor Jane Fisher AOIt was early in Professor Jane Fisher’s career that she started thinking about things from a public mental health perspective. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Psychology, she began work as a trainee Clinical Psychologist in a large psychiatric hospital. The approaches to care included seclusion and involuntary admission, without thorough consideration of the risks in people’s social circumstances and living situations. This led her to think about prevention and how mental health problems could be avoided.

In the belief that assisting people early in life was key to preventing problems, she moved from psychiatric services to working as a school psychologist.

It was a pivotal time she recalls, “I was working with schools to see how they could be more psychologically informed and how young people could be assisted to prevent problems from developing.”

While caring for her young children, Professor Fisher completed a PhD investigating one aspect of very early life; the psychological impact on women of caesarean birth. Interests in reproductive mental health and the psychological capabilities of maternity service providers and health service improvements grew from there.

She taught postgraduate students doing Master’s degrees in women’s health and public health and continued research into the psychological aspects of reproductive health at the University of Melbourne’s Key Centre for Women’s Health in Society. It became a World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Women’s Health in 1994.

Generating evidence to guide prevention of health problems is the cornerstone of our work.

A study tour of women’s health services in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam was arranged after its inception in the early 1990s and cemented Professor Fisher’s focus on maternal and child health. While on the tour, she asked healthcare providers whether mental health problems related to childbearing were ever seen.

"The Vice Director of an obstetric hospital in Hanoi was the only one to note that the question could not truly be answered because there were no data,” says Prof Fisher.

“So together, we secured a small grant from the World Health Organization Western Pacific Regional Office and conducted the first survey of the mental health of women who had recently given birth in Vietnam.”

The research found, contrary to expectations, that prevalence of clinically significant symptoms of depression was two to three times higher than experienced by women in high income countries. Within three months of publishing these data, Vietnam’s National Committee for Populations, Families and Children called a national meeting to consider the implications at which Professor Fisher spoke. She met and began working with Dr Tran Tuan, the Director of the Research and Training Centre for Community Development (RTCCD) in Hanoi, and the research partnership with this organisation continues today. Extensive epidemiological research about the mental health of women who are pregnant or who have recently given birth and the early development of their children and trials of community-based interventions to address these problems in Vietnam, with RTCCD is continuing.

Reflecting on this large body of research, Prof Fisher says the implications are compelling.

“We believe the multi-component interventions that address the needs of women, their partners and their young children are effective and acceptable. They provide a model that’s low-cost, non-stigmatising and can be implemented at a local level by community health workers.”

She says the team would like in the future to scale up local adaptations of these types of intervention to low- and lower-middle income countries in South East Asia and the Pacific.

Jane Fisher joined Monash University in 2011, leading the Jean Hailes Research Unit for six years. In 2018 she was privileged to be appointed to the Finkel Chair in Global Health, which is generously supported by Alan and Elizabeth Finkel through the Finkel Family Foundation. In 2019 she was appointed an Officer in the Order of Australia for her contributions to women’s health and the community.

The Unit’s research has a common thread says Professor Fisher.

“Generating evidence to guide prevention of health problems is the cornerstone of our work,” she says. And that includes our regional global health projects, our domestic women’s health projects and, more recently, our research into the mental health impact of the coronavirus restrictions says Fisher.

“We try to support our students to develop their area of interest with this philosophy in mind,” she says.

The Global and Women’s Health Unit which she leads is part of the newly formed Planetary Health Division of which she is Co-Director.