Columbia Ob/Gyn launches new integrated clinical care program, centered on mental health

The Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center has launched a new integrated clinical care program centered on Women’s Mental Health.

Led by Catherine Monk, PhD, Professor of Medical Psychology in the Departments of Ob/Gyn and Psychiatry at CUIMC, the program seeks to embed high quality mental health interventions into maternal health care and women’s health at Columbia.

“Through this new initiative, we aim to dramatically increase access to mental health services by embedding cost-effective behavioral health care into obstetrics primary care,” said Dr. Monk. “Data is overwhelmingly clear that stress and mental health problems can impact a patient’s physical health, risk for disease, and the future child’s development. Simply put, there is no health without mental health.”

Dr. Monk is joined by Elizabeth Werner, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Behavioral Medicine in the Department of Ob/Gyn. Dr. Monk also directs the Perinatal Pathways Research Laboratory, where she and Dr. Werner work with a team of other investigators, postdoctoral trainees, and research staff to conduct research studies with pregnant women and their babies to improve the wellbeing of patients and their families.

“As we build our Women’s Mental Health program, we hope it will service as a model for embedded mental health care,” said Mary E. D’Alton, MD, Chair of the Department of Ob/Gyn. “Long term, we hope that this will pave the way for embedding behavioral health services in primary care settings more generally.”

The importance of mental well-being during pregnancy and motherhood, and the prevalence of mental health complications, are often not recognized or addressed. The stress a woman experiences during pregnancy and after childbirth has an impact on the mother as well as on the brain-behavior development of her future child; through appropriate mental health interventions, the physical as well as mental health of mothers and babies can be improved.

In the United States, 10-15 percent of women experience pregnancy and/or postpartum depression, with rates of behavioral health issues even higher when substance use disorders and anxiety are counted. In fact, postpartum depression is the most common complication after childbirth.

Despite the dramatic need for treatment, most pregnant women with depression and anxiety do not get mental health interventions because of barriers to care. One of the most significant barriers is a lack of accessible insurance coverage for behavioral health care, which, nationwide, is four to six times more likely to be provided out-of-network than medical or surgical care. Out-of-network care is almost always more expensive and less convenient.

In addition to maternal mental health care, the program also will provide mental health care for women and their partners undergoing fertility treatments or struggling with infertility, those experiencing pregnancy loss, and care for women undergoing menopause and other life changes.

The program will offer short term psychotherapy and psychopharmacology consultation as well as leverage telemedicine to enhance accessibility and convenience for all patients.

To learn more about the Women’s Mental Health Program at Columbia, visit our division page.