Share this story

Nancy Byatt co-leading national study of mental health care for pregnant and postpartum women

Nancy Byatt, DO

UMass Medical School perinatal depression expert Nancy Byatt, DO, is a principal investigator for a national study that will evaluate which components of three innovative programs for pregnant and postpartum women with depression are most effective. The three-year, $4.1 million funding award from the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute will be led by Dr. Byatt, associate professor of psychiatry at UMMS, and Thomas Mackie, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of health behavior, society and policy at the Rutgers School of Public Health, in partnership with colleagues at the University of Washington.

Perinatal depression affects 1 in 7 women during pregnancy or within a year giving birth. In the United States, less than 20 percent of pregnant and postpartum women who screen positive for depression participate in mental health treatment and even fewer participate in follow-up. Left untreated, perinatal depression can negatively impact birth, mother and infant bonding, and children’s behavior and development.

In response to this public health crisis, statewide programs are being created across the United States to build the capacity of front-line obstetric providers to treat depression. These programs, called perinatal psychiatry access programs, are being implemented in at least 15 states, with more states planning to bring programs online.

“This funding award provides the opportunity to not only evaluate the effectiveness of perinatal psychiatry access programs, but also to determine which program components improve participation in mental health treatment,” said Byatt. “Our results will inform how other access programs develop across the country to improve their quality and impact on perinatal mental health care.”

The PCORI-funded study will compare the effectiveness of training, consultation and care coordination in perinatal psychiatry access programs in Washington, New Jersey and Massachusetts.

With its aim to strengthen the ability of health care systems to respond to perinatal depression, the research will be done in close collaboration with critical stakeholders including Postpartum Support International, a national advocacy organization committed to increasing awareness of perinatal depression and promoting prevention and treatment among public and professional communities.

The Massachusetts Child Psychiatry Access Program for Moms (MCPAP for Moms) developed by Byatt and colleagues at UMass Medical School is one of the programs being evaluated; Tiffany Moore Simas, MD, professor of obstetrics & gynecology at UMMS, is a co-investigator for the PCORI study.

Launched in 2014, the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health-funded MCPAP for Moms makes expert psychiatric advice a phone call away for obstetricians, pediatricians and family medicine providers. Through the program, these frontline providers for pregnant and postpartum women can access online training, screening, diagnosis and treatment toolkits, as well as telephone and face-to-face psychiatric consultation.

MCPAP for Moms has trained thousands of providers including those at every obstetric practice statewide and has recently been featured on National Public Radio and Scripps TV.

“Our study is timely because access programs, many modeled on MCPAP for Moms, are being developed and implemented across the United States,” said Byatt. “We will also build on our National Network of Perinatal Psychiatry Access Programs to disseminate what we learn from this study to improve the quality of access programs nationwide.”

PCORI is an independent, nonprofit organization authorized by Congress to provide patients, their caregivers and clinicians with the evidence-based information needed to make better-informed health care decisions.

Related stories on UMassMedNow:
Nancy Byatt receives John C. MacQueen Lecture Award
NPR: Program developed at UMMS a ‘lifeline’ for mothers with postpartum depression
Grant will help expand perinatal mental health and substance use disorder center created at UMMS
Why pregnant women with depression often slip through the cracks
LISTEN: Perinatal experts discuss screening moms for postpartum depression