Catriona Hippman is a Research Fellow with the Reproductive and Infant Psychiatry programs at BC Children’s and Women’s Hospitals. She completed her PhD in 2020 in the UBC Interdisciplinary Studies program, co-supervised by Dr. Jehannine Austin and Dr. Lynda Balneaves. She is also trained clinically as a genetic counsellor, certified since 2009, and is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the UBC Department of Psychiatry.
Summary of REB approved research including future implications:
“My doctoral work focused on how we can better support women who are trying to decide whether to take antidepressants during pregnancy. I did this through two studies. In one, I interviewed 31 women about their experience of deciding whether to take antidepressants during pregnancy and then developed a theoretical model of decision making from women’s stories. In the other, I did genetic testing for 83 women who were taking antidepressants during pregnancy, and compared levels of depression symptoms for women grouped by variations they had in two genes that are responsible for enzymes that are involved in metabolizing antidepressants. My research can be used by clinicians and patients to support decisions regarding depression treatment during pregnancy.
Depression is very common, affecting 10-15% of pregnant women. Over the years, prescriptions for antidepressants have increased, particularly for women of childbearing age. There is a great deal of societal pressure on women during pregnancy, and intense stigma against taking antidepressants during pregnancy – there is stigma not only towards mental illness generally, but also the perception that ‘good mothers’ don’t take medication. The media often fans the flames of women’s fears with headlines such as “Taking antidepressants during pregnancy increases risk of autism by 87 percent” – Dec. 14, 2015. Without medication, however, many women are not able to control their depression symptoms, and this can also have consequences for both mother and baby – in the most extreme cases, causing loss of life for both through the mother completing suicide.
My work challenges the assumption that living without medication is necessarily best, and my hope is to co-construct a new narrative that choosing to take antidepressants during pregnancy can be the choice of a responsible mother.
My vision is for all women to feel empowered to care for their mental health, and my mission is to improve women’s reproductive mental health through translational research.”