Northwestern program aims to tackle the issue of perinatal depression in mothers


Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Feinberg assistant professor Emily Miller created the Compass program to help combat the issue of perinatal depression.

Vivian Xia, Reporter

A Northwestern program aims to tackle the issue of perinatal depression, which strikes before and after pregnancy and affects as many as one in five mothers.

The program, called Compass, enters all women referred to it, often by their doctors or midwives, or those who seek it out themselves into a patient registry and screens them regularly for depression electronically through self-reported surveys every two to four weeks. At weekly multidisciplinary meetings, the Compass team talks about all the patients in the registry that are still having depressive symptoms and discusses ways to change their care plans to ensure they are getting the best care possible.

Compass was created three years ago by Dr. Emily Miller, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist and assistant professor at Feinberg. Miller said she got the idea after seeing strong evidence supporting the ability of collaborative care to improve mental health outcomes and wanted to apply that in the context of prenatal and postpartum care.

“We wanted to build upon what we learned from our internal medicine and psychiatry colleagues but apply it to the unique aspects of our population and our health system,” Miller said.

Compass is funded by Friends of Prentice, which works with Northwestern Medicine Prentice Women’s Hospital to advance the quality of women’s healthcare by funding research focusing on areas of women’s health.

Compass was the largest project Friends of Prentice funded in its over 30-year history, as it put $840,000 towards the project, said Kristin Field, executive director of Friends of Prentice. Field said Friends of Prentice runs a “competitive grant process” and that Compass was a project the organization felt strongly about.

“It’s been so impactful and we really believe that what Dr. Miller is working on is extremely important,” Field said. “And it’s bringing a light to mental health and an area of critical care for women that is not usually addressed and it’s bringing it to the forefront.”

Field added that Friends of Prentice gave Compass the seed money because it wanted to expand the program and watch it “flourish and grow.”

Rachel Ostrov, a clinical social worker with Compass, said she hopes that Compass is able to help more women in need of these services, especially with Compass being replicated in other places.

“I hope that we continue to be able to reach as many women who are seeking these services as possible,” Ostrov said. “And I’m also excited about the idea of the program being replicated across the country.”

Miller said Compass was implemented at five clinics at Northwestern and that the team is seeing promising results. She said the next step was to see what happened if Compass was replicated in different places, evaluate if it was still effective and get other obstetrics clinics to do the same thing.

“We’re disseminating our results, we’re presenting and doing workshops with many different academic hospitals, to meet with their sought leaders in obstetrics and psychiatry, to start to think about how we can adapt what we’ve learned here to what their local setting is,” Miller said.

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