Prenatal depression research

By Crystal Baity

Studies show that pregnancy isn’t the happiest time in every woman’s life.

As a result, an East Carolina University researcher is studying the effectiveness of a program for low-income women in reducing their risk of prenatal, also called antepartum, depression, which is depression that occurs during pregnancy.

Dr. D. Elizabeth Jesse, ECU associate professor of graduate nursing science in the College of Nursing and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the Brody School of Medicine, has been awarded a National Institute of Mental Health grant that will provide support for pregnant women at risk of depression.

The three-year, $640,742 grant will allow Jesse, a certified nurse midwife, to work with patients at the Pitt County Health Department and ECU Physicians’ Regional Perinatal Center. Expectant mothers are already screened for risk of depression, and those with a certain score on the assessment will be invited to enroll in Jesse’s study and the program, called Insight Plus.

Each year, up to 50 percent of pregnant women experience depressive symptoms and about 13 percent develop antepartum depression, which can mimic typical pregnancy symptoms from mood swings to fatigue or a change in sleep patterns. Up to 50 percent of women who suffer from antepartum depression also will have postpartum depression, so early intervention is important, Jesse said.

“Women who experience high stress, lack support from family and friends, have lower levels of self-esteem, suffer domestic violence, and think more negatively about themselves can be more at risk for antepartum depression,” Jesse said. “They begin to feel sad and useless.”

Women often are reluctant to talk about depression during pregnancy or ask for help because of the stigma surrounding it, and they don’t want to appear weak or risk being called a “bad mother,” Jesse said.

Insight Plus is a culturally tailored intervention to help expectant mothers build emotional support from family and friends, set goals, reduce stress, increase positive thinking and improve self-esteem. It includes spiritual-related material for those who value it. “It is my theory that by decreasing risks and increasing resources these women will improve,” Jesse said.

Those enrolled in the program will meet once a week for six weeks with a social worker and a lay assistant, called a “resource mom.” The social worker, resource mom and women will work together to identify and solve problems. Transportation and child care will be offered. Each woman will receive an MP3 player programmed with relaxation and stress reduction exercises and other homework assignments, called positive affirmations, Jesse said.

“Should the Insight Plus program prove to be feasible and effective, it will be a model for delivering care by public health staff and lay helpers,” Jesse said.

The NIH review panel said findings from the study will be highly relevant for public health because the intervention is integrated within rural prenatal clinics, including the local health department, where access to mental health resources for treating and preventing antepartum depression is limited. The panel also said the intervention is sensitive to the cultural needs of low-income African-American, Caucasian and Hispanic women, a population that has been underrepresented in previous studies.

Co-investigators at ECU are Dr. Melvin Swanson, professor of nursing; Dr. Sheila Bunch, professor of social work; and Dr. Edward Newton, chair and professor of obstetrics and gynecology. Jesse also will collaborate with colleagues at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Vanderbilt University and the University of Virginia.

ECU offers the only nurse midwifery curriculum in North Carolina. A special intent is for graduates to assume care provider roles in rural areas to meet the needs of underserved women and infants.

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Ballard to deliver State of University address

Chancellor Steve Ballard will deliver his State of the University address at 11 a.m. Feb. 2 in Hendrix Theatre, Mendenhall Student Center.

Ballard, who joined ECU in the spring of 2004, plans to examine the university’s condition, with particular attention to the difficult budget situation facing the state.

Ballard has invited faculty, staff, students and members of the Greenville community to attend. Anyone unable to attend may view the address online at http://smart.ecu.edu/mediasite/SilverlightPlayer/Default.aspx?peid=b13ce9bc5a504ba7917e3e1710ec72971d.

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Mills Health Symposium

By Crystal Baity

GREENVILLE, N.C.   (Jan. 19, 2011)   —   East Carolina University and communities are working together to reduce disparities, improve minority health and solve health problems, which is the focus of the seventh annual Jean Mills Health Symposium Feb. 4 in Greenville.

The keynote speaker will be Dr. William C. “Bill” Jenkins, adjunct associate professor of epidemiology in the Morehouse School of Medicine and senior fellow with the Institute for African American Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Jenkins served two decades as supervisory epidemiologist in the National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and managed its Minority Health Activities Program. He managed the Participant Health Benefits Program which assures medical services to the survivors of the Tuskegee syphilis study. Jenkins also served as an expert on minority issues in disease transmission as chief of the research and evaluation statistics section in the Division of Sexually Transmitted Diseases Prevention and as manager of the National Minority Organizations HIV Prevention Program.

Jenkins’ presentation, “Community Participatory Research: Myths and Realities,” begins at 9:15 a.m. Friday, Feb. 4 in the Greenville Hilton, 207 SW Greenville Blvd., Greenville.

Luncheon speaker will be Barbara Pullen-Smith, director of the N.C. Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities in the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

The symposium will feature more than 20 recognized experts on the principles of community engagement: mutual benefits, collaborative relationships and empowerment. Presentations will focus on the scholarship of engagement and on service to the community with an engagement model addressing health disparities and minority health.

Information is available at http://eahec.ecu.edu or call Amy Bullock at Eastern AHEC at 252-744-5205 or email bullockamy@ecu.edu.

The event is sponsored by the ECU College of Allied Health Sciences in collaboration with the ECU Medical & Health Sciences Foundation, Pitt Memorial Hospital Foundation and Eastern Area Health Education Center.

Jean Elaine Mills earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1977 and a master’s in public administration with a concentration in community health from ECU in 1984. She died from breast cancer in 2000.

Amos T. Mills III, Jean’s brother, created the symposium in an effort to keep her spirit of discovery and community outreach alive.

Individuals requesting accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act should contact the Department for Disability Support Services at least two weeks prior to the event at 252-737-1016 (voice/TTY).

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