Women’s Mental Health Program

Existing treatments can offer significant relief, but therapy and medication do not work for everyone. We are at the forefront of research on treating women with mental health disorders. If you are interested in participating in any of the below ongoing research projects, please email womensmentalhealth@mssm.edu or call 212-659-1326.

The goals of our research studies are to understand the mental health of women and children during the reproductive cycle. There are still many areas of reproductive psychiatry where the knowledge in the field is incomplete. Our diverse research program is intended to address these knowledge gaps.

Our ongoing research interests include the role of medication in maintaining mood stability in women during pregnancy; the impact of maternal mental illness on the brain and behavior of the child; and the etiology and treatment of postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis. We collaborate with researchers worldwide and currently have ongoing research projects at Stanford University, Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands, Aarhus University in Denmark, and the Karolinska institute in Sweden.

As we continue to explore women’s mental health through research, we remain committed to providing our patients with the best treatment and care possible. For information on our treatment services for patients, visit our clinical services page

Research Studies During Pregnancy

The Generation C Study
Principal Investigators: Veerle Bergink, MD, PhD and Elizabeth Howell, MD, MPP

This study aims to understand the effects of COVID-19 on moms and their babies during pregnancy, delivery, and after birth. You would donate one extra tube of blood at your regularly scheduled prenatal blood draws and at delivery, and allow us to review your and your baby's medical records for information regarding your clinical care and medical history.

You are eligible to participate in this study if you are pregnant between the ages of 18 and 50.

HEALthy Brain and Child Development Study
Principal Investigator: Veerle Bergink, MD, PhD

The purpose of this study is to learn about early human brain development and how it can be influenced by the environment. We also want to learn about the health of pregnant mothers and how the mother’s emotions, behaviors, and any medications she takes may affect the development of her child. If you are interested in participating, we will first ask you to complete a questionnaire. Mothers interested in imaging will be asked if they want to participate in MRI studies.

You are eligible to participate in this study if you are pregnant and have been taking opioids or opioid pain medication during pregnancy.

Biomarkers of Mother-Infant Social Behavior
Principal Investigator: M. Mercedes Perez-Rodriguez, MD, PhD

We seek to understand how hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy relate to maternal caregiving behavior. We will focus on the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin, which have been linked to regulating social behavior, including maternal caregiving. Through a unique collaboration with the obstetric anesthesia team at The Mount Sinai Hospital, we will measure these hormones in cerebrospinal fluid samples. These will be collected during anesthesia procedures that are routinely used for pain management during labor and delivery. The results of this study can help us to understand more about maternal caregiving behavior.

You are eligible to participate in this study if you plan to deliver at The Mount Sinai Hospital and will have epidural anesthesia for the delivery.

The Neurobiology of Mother-Infant Interactions
Principal Investigator: Julie Spicer, PhD

Maternal psychosocial stress can affect the development of fetal and infant systems critical for future health. At the same time, not all individuals in stressful circumstances are burdened by illness. Biological measures of maternal perinatal functioning may help identify which women are at risk, paving the way for earlier and more targeted interventions for these women and their children. We will investigate biomarkers during pregnancy and investigate mother-baby interaction after birth.

You are eligible to participate in this study if you are receiving obstetric care at the E-level clinic and plan to deliver at The Mount Sinai Hospital.

Research Studies After Delivery

Wearable Neurostimulation Treatment for Postpartum Depression
Site Principal Investigator: Thalia K. Robakis, MD, PhD

We will test an external wearable neurostimulator for the treatment of postpartum depression. The trial involves wearing a small, ear-mounted stimulator for twenty minutes per day for a period of six weeks. We are excited at the prospect that this alternative treatment may be helpful for women who prefer to avoid medication. Funder: Vorso Company, LLC.

You are eligible to participate in this study if you are a mother who gave birth less than three months ago and if you have depressive symptoms.

HEALthy Brain and Child Development Study
Principal Investigator: Veerle Bergink, MD, PhD

The purpose of this study is to learn about early human brain development and how it can be influenced by the environment. We also want to learn about the health of pregnant mothers and how their emotions, behaviors, and any medications may affect the development of their child. If you are interested in participating, we will first ask you to complete a questionnaire. Mothers interested in imaging will be asked if they want to participate in MRI studies. 

You are eligible to participate in this study if you have a child under the age of five and you have been taking opioids or opioid pain medication during pregnancy.

Mother-Baby Interaction Study
Principal Investigator: Anna Rommel, PhD

Phthalate plasticizers are pervasive in consumer products and cross the placental and blood–brain barriers. Prenatal exposure to phthalates has been linked to cognition and behaviors central to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Here, we seek to understand how phthalates may alter the electrical activity generated by the brain to increase the risk for ADHD at two years of age in a pregnancy cohort of mother-child pairs, who were consented in the first trimester of their pregnancy and followed up until birth. To do so, we propose to investigate the relationship between concentrations of 11 phthalates in prenatal maternal urine and the electrical activity generated by the brain in response to various sounds, representing a measure of attention.

You are eligible to participate in this study if you are a mother who gave birth less than three months ago.  

Treatment of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Postpartum
Principal Investigator: Talia Wiesel, PhD

We are conducting a research study examining the effectiveness of exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy for OCD delivered over web camera for postpartum women struggling with these symptoms. ERP is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which is effective in significantly reducing OCD symptoms; many individuals maintain their progress after therapy has ended. Participants will receive individual web-based therapy with a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in treating OCD. Treatment will include 16 therapy sessions over 8 weeks. Therapy will be provided at no cost to participants.

You are eligible to participate if you are a mother who gave birth less than 12 months ago and you have a diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder.  

Meet Our Research Team

Our research team is comprised of doctors and researchers dedicated to studying the mental health of women during the reproductive cycle. Our researchers have years of experience in their fields and are dedicated to reproductive research.

Veerle Bergink, MD, PhD, Director
Veerle Bergink, MD, is a Professor of Psychiatry, and Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Science at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Dr. Bergink established a prospective postpartum psychosis study in 2008, currently the largest first-onset postpartum psychosis and mania cohort in the world. She has defined a highly effective clinical treatment algorithm for treatment of the acute phase and also for the prevention of postpartum relapse. Moreover, her research has provided intriguing evidence for an underlying immunological pathophysiology of postpartum depression, mania, and psychosis. Because of this research from her group, postpartum psychosis is registered as a distinct disease in Orphanet, a database for rare diseases, which reduces stigma for patients by offering an official medical status. She is actively involved in epidemiological studies, examining intergenerational psychopathology and medication use during pregnancy. She has been the principle investigator on multiple research projects including studies on lithium and antidepressant use during pregnancy, neuroimaging of new mothers and their offspring, and the longitudinal course of severe perinatal mood disorders. Her work has been funded by various sources such as National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the European Union, the Dutch government, and private foundations. She has won prestigious prizes and has published extensively in top-tier journals. 

Thalia K. Robakis, MD, PhD, Co-Director
Thalia Robakis, MD, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Her research interests center on early life stress and its impacts on maternal mental and physical health and on infant behavior and development. Her current projects include an assessment of how maternal attachment style and psychiatric history are associated with behavioral development in preschoolers; studies of epigenetic markers in mothers and infants in association with maternal trauma history and attachment insecurity; and an industry-sponsored trial of a wearable neurostimulator for postpartum depression. She also collaborates with researchers at Stanford University, Rockefeller University, and other institutions in the PALS (Psychopathology and Allostatic Load Across the Lifespan) network to explore the psychiatric, metabolic, immunological, and other outcomes associated with contributors to allostatic load.

Nina Molenaar MD, PhD
Dr. Molenaar’s research focuses on perinatal psychiatry and psychotropic medication use during the perinatal period. She conducted the first randomized controlled trial on tapering of antidepressants during pregnancy worldwide, and is currently working on clinical trials, register-based studies, and systematic reviews within perinatal psychiatry and early childhood development.

M. Mercedes Perez-Rodriguez, MD, PhD
Mercedes Perez-Rodriguez, MD, is Director of Clinical Research and Research Training of the Critical Connections Psychosis Program; Director of the Psychiatry Clerkship; Social Cognition Section Co-Chief at the Center for Affective Neuroscience; and Assistant Training Director for Research at the Icahn School of Medicine. Her research focuses on the psychosis spectrum and trauma-related disorders, integrating neuroimaging, cognition, genetics, and biomarkers.

Anna-Sophie Rommel, PhD
Dr. Rommel’s research combines epidemiological, cognitive-neurobiological, and genetically sensitive longitudinal designs to study risk and protective factors for adverse neurodevelopment and psychopathology, as well as the biological mechanisms underlying them. She is currently studying the impact of common prenatal environmental exposures on brain and overall development using novel methods, including 3D ultrasound, and investigating psychopathology in understudied populations, such as menopausal women, using health register data.  

Michael Silverman, PhD
Dr. Silverman’s research focuses on forwarding the understanding of mental health issues during pregnancy and the period following childbirth. Dr. Silverman has been the principal nvestigator on two NIH studies addressing the pattern, magnitude, and epidemiologic risks for postpartum depression in large population-based samples. One of these studies is also directed towards understanding the long-term childhood outcomes associated with early maternal depression. Dr. Silverman’s publications include the first functional neuroimaging study of postpartum depression; the first study to demonstrate the relationship between a history of abuse (physical/sexual) and the subsequent development of depression after childbirth; the largest U.S. population based epidemiological study of postpartum depression risk; and the largest study detailing the impact of a woman’s depression history on her postpartum depression risk. 

Julie Spicer, PhD
Dr. Spicer’s current research focuses on how stress gets “under the skin” to influence long-term health and cognition, with an emphasis on early life exposures. In the prenatal and early postpartum periods, there is rapid maturation of both neural and physiological systems in offspring. The developmental success of these systems has long-term impacts on health, and maternal stress can affect such success. Working with time series data from functional magnetic resonance imaging and ambulatory blood pressure monitoring, as well as longitudinal measures from the endocrine and immune systems, her group examines how maternal stress-related psychological processes connect to biological responses and health outcomes. The work has implications for the current pervasive national problem of socioeconomic health-related disparities.

Talia Wiesel, PhD
Dr. Wiesel is conducting a research project looking for new moms (within 12 months of giving birth) with postpartum OCD to participate in a web-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) treatment.