UNC Hosts International Perinatal Mental Health Conference

Improving the lives of mothers, babies, and families was the focus at the Marcé of North America (MONA) 4th Biennial Conference on Perinatal Mental Health. MONA is the regional group of the international Marcé Society— a perinatal mental health research organization.

UNC Hosts International Perinatal Mental Health Conference click to enlarge MONA Conference Session

October 31, 2019

The conference consisted of four days full of workshops, plenary lectures, and concurrent sessions at the UNC Friday Center. Attendees included physicians (psychiatrists, OB-GYNs, pediatricians,) researchers, and other mental health clinicians.

Samantha Meltzer-Brody, MD, chair of the department of psychiatry at the UNC School of Medicine and President of MONA, gave the welcoming speech Friday morning to hundreds of attendees. Other speakers included Katherine Wisner, MD, MS, immediate past president and founder of MONA; Lisa Segre, PHD, president of Marcé International Society for Perinatal Mental Health; Ian Jones, MD, of Cardiff University, Wales; Alison Stuebe, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UNC School of Medicine (SOM); Hendrée Jones, PhD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UNC SOM and executive director of UNC Horizons program. In total UNC had seven keynote speakers at the conference.

 “We had the largest ever MONA conference and our chapter is the largest chapter of Marcé Society. We are growing exponentially and we had over 500 registrants. This reflects the national movement to make maternal mental health a priority,” said Meltzer-Brody.

“We are thrilled there are so many passionate perinatal mental health researchers, clinicians and advocates who saw the Marcé of North America conference as a valuable space to share their work. With this being the first perinatal mental health conference in the United States as a formal regional group of Marcé International, we really did not know what to expect in terms of attendance and it has been wildly encouraging to see attendees from all over the world join us in Chapel Hill,” said Holly Krohn, MPH, research instructor in UNC SOM’s department of psychiatry.

“The growth of the field has been tremendous and speaks to the need for more research and training in perinatal mental health," said Crystal Schiller, PhD, assistant professor of UNC’s perinatal psychiatry program. “Access to quality, evidence-based care for perinatal mental health is quite limited outside of academic medical centers, and many women don’t receive the help that they need. I feel proud that our program is working to address barriers to care, and I am delighted that so many others have dedicated their careers to this cause,” said Schiller, Perinatal Psychiatry Program co-director.

The conference kicked off with a relaunch of the PPD ACT app, now called Mom Genes Fight PPD. The new and improved campaign - asking moms to be a part of the genetic study – is now available both for Android and IOS users in both English and Spanish. Organizers hope to receive more than 100,000 DNA samples – collected as saliva through spit kits – from mothers who have been affected by PPD. The samples will be used to draw conclusions, enabling better treatments to be developed for those affected by postpartum depression.

In her keynote talk, Dr. Stuebe discussed “Establishing the 4th Trimester,” and explained developmental and evolutionary rationale for the 4th trimester, prevalence of unmet maternal health needs, structural racism and implicit bias contributing to inequities in 4th trimester health and recommendations to improve support.

“There is a 4th trimester to pregnancy that is often neglected,” she said. “We need to pay attention to mothers in this critical period. We need to rethink about how we care for families during this time period.”

Experts say postnatal depression affects 1 in 10 women after childbirth, and one in 1000 suffer from the lesser-known but devastating postpartum psychosis (puerperal psychosis). UNC is the first institution to hold an international meeting of Marcé of North America. The next MONA conference will take place in 2021 in Chicago.

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