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Antipsychotic drugs during pregnancy: building a best practice

April 2012

Dr. Simone Vigod

A growing number of women with serious mental illness are becoming pregnant, says Dr. Simone Vigod Women’s College psychiatrist and scientist and assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto.

“My patients are vulnerable, but they are also incredibly resilient,” says Vigod. “These women work hard to make sure they’re functioning well, staying healthy in pregnancy and being good parents.”

But when patients ask for guidance on how to manage their drug therapies during pregnancy, Vigod has few recommendations based on high-quality evidence. Through her research, she’s addressing the questions that patients and clinicians need answered.

“Right now, my patients and I need to carefully consider potential risks of drug therapies, or of stopping drug therapies,” says Vigod. “Each path can be risky and can impact both the baby and the mother, and right now there are few guidelines to inform our recommendations.”

Vigod is currently heading a clinical study focused on how women with mood and anxiety disorders make decisions about whether to use anti-depressant medication during pregnancy. Supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario and the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care Physician Innovation Fund, she leads population-based studies focused on psychiatric, obstetrical and neonatal outcomes for women with serious mental illness.

Two awards in support of women’s mental health services research

Vigod was recently selected to receive the 2012 NCDEU New Investigator Award, sponsored by the American Society of Clinical Psychopharmacology. In addition, in February, Vigod was granted the inaugural Clinician-Scientist Award through the Shirley Brown Chair in Women’s Mental Health Research. The award will support Vigod’s established research programs: gender and sex-based analysis of women’s mental health services, and perinatal mental health.

“Compared to men being treated for similar illnesses, women often have poorer medical, psychiatric and quality of life outcomes,” says Vigod. “In addition, there are mental health issues unique to women, such as the management of mental health issues during the perinatal period.”

Created in honour of a young lawyer who succumbed to severe depression, the Shirley Brown Chair in Women’s Mental Health Research was established and endowed by a community-based fundraising campaign led by the Brown family.

“I’m thrilled to present Dr. Vigod with this inaugural award,” says Dr. Cindy-Lee Dennis, Women’s College senior scientist and Shirley Brown Chair in Women’s Mental Health Research. “Dr. Vigod is incredibly dedicated to improving care for her patients, and for women across Canada and beyond. Her vision and her work will enhance the scope of research that the chair supports.”

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