MSUToday
Published: Dec. 10, 2019

Grant aims to improve depression during and after pregnancy

By: Madeline Kelly University Communications kellym35@msu.eduContact(s): Andrea Wittenborn Human Development and Family Studies office: (517) 355-7680 andreaw@msu.edu

Michigan State University has received nearly $320,000 from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund to improve depression among pregnant and postpartum women across Michigan through the implementation of integrated health care. 

For this project, perinatal depression is defined as depression during pregnancy or in the first year postpartum. It produces a variety of symptoms that can affect parenting behaviors and have a lasting negative impact on the health and well-being of mothers and their children across the lifespan, said Andrea Wittenborn, associate professor of Human Development and Family Studies, who will lead the grant project.

Over the next two years, the project will aim to strengthen the workforce and improve outcomes for perinatal depression by using an evidence-based model of integrated care in six health centers:

  • Sparrow Health System, Lansing (three locations)
  • McLaren Health Care, Flint
  • Genesys Regional Medical Center, Grand Blanc 
  • Spectrum Health, Grand Rapids

These sites treat a predominately Medicaid population, so services will be improved for those most in need of complex care.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, postpartum depression affects 12% of women in the U.S. and 14% of women in Michigan. Depression during pregnancy is the strongest predictor of low birth weight and prematurity among infants, with socioeconomically disadvantaged families experiencing the greatest risk. 

“One of the best ways to increase the utilization of specialized mental health services is through integrated care – that is, when mental health specialists, physicians and psychiatrists work side-by-side to improve the health of their patients,” Wittenborn said. “When patients are referred to a mental health specialist offsite, only 10% follow up. If the mental health specialist is onsite, this number improves to 69%.”

The project will include new training for medical providers, behavioral health specialists and psychiatrists and work with their supervisors and staff to ensure the practice is implemented smoothly at all six facilities. 

“To adopt the new approach, it is important to adapt it to the needs of each site since there are unique differences among them,” Wittenborn said. “The project will include work with healthcare teams, supervisors and staff at each site to ensure an effective transition into the approach in order to improve service delivery at each site. We will then track the impact the new approach has on outcomes for depression among pregnant and postpartum women.”

Other collaborators on the project include Amy Romain and Anna Ratzliff, experts in collaborative care, and Jim Olson, a medical and psychiatry expert.

Andrea Wittenborn, associate professor of Human Development and Family Studies, will lead the grant project. Photo by G.L. Kohuth