Comprehensive mental and physical health care is the focus of a first-of-its-kind multidisciplinary collaboration at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) that embeds mental health professionals into UT Physicians OB-GYN clinics to streamline care. 

The UTHealth Women’s Mental Health Program simplifies the process for women to seek help for pre-pregnancy and postpartum depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions by providing access to specialists in psychology and psychiatry in certain UT Physicians Women’s Centers. The initiative is a collaboration between the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth.

“Research shows 10 to 15 percent or more of postpartum mothers experience clinical depression, and this program is a step in the right direction to ensure those women have feasible access to specialized care,” said Sudhakar Selvaraj, MD, PhD, psychiatrist and assistant professor at McGovern Medical School. “Before this partnership, obstetricians would refer patients for mental health services, but it is unlikely that those women who are already dealing with so much would take the next step to follow up and make an additional appointment at another place. Now, the process is streamlined, and our social worker follows up with patients to schedule an appointment in the clinic they’re already attending.”

The proximity that the partnership allows specialists to have with patients who need their care is an invaluable resource that will hopefully ensure more women receive the services they need, Selvaraj said.

“Recently I was able to provide immediate counsel within the hour to a woman who just found out she had a miscarriage,” said Selvaraj. “That would not have been possible if I hadn’t been working in the women’s clinic that day. Additionally, having a physical space alongside the OB-GYNs shows mothers that mental health issues are common, and they are not alone in dealing with them.”

According to the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, perinatal mood disorders are the most common complication of pregnancy, with a prevalence of 20 percent in the general population and up to 40 percent in vulnerable populations.

“Providing mothers with mental health care options during and after their pregnancies is absolutely critical,” said Sean C. Blackwell, MD, chair of the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at McGovern Medical School and president of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine. “We saw a great need to do more to help women overcome common conditions like depression and anxiety, and are thrilled to be one of the first programs in Houston to offer these specialized services in-house. We hope the change leads to more women receiving all-inclusive health care, and helps us continue to provide the most innovative care in Houston.”

The program is in line with the latest recommendations on optimal care that were jointly issued by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health, and other groups in 2017, which called on obstetricians to integrate mental health services into the services for pregnant and postpartum women.

“Through the program, we see a lot of postpartum depression, worried first-time moms who might be experiencing panic attacks or other forms of anxiety, trauma from birth, and more,” said Kristin Calverley, PhD, psychologist and clinical assistant professor with McGovern Medical School. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to be able to combine my love for helping people with my previous experiences working in women’s health and a neonatal intensive care unit to provide our patients with the most comprehensive care.”

To make an appointment at a UT Physicians Women’s Center, please contact 832-325-7131.