Mental Health

At Women’s College Hospital we are exploring the biological and social factors that shape women’s mental health. In partnership with the clinical Women’s Mental Health Program, we are developing ways to improve the services women receive when they seek mental health care. These research initiatives and resulting clinical programs combine physical and mental health supports, treatments and preventative care.

Our Team

  • Aysha Butt (Research Coordinator II)
  • Katie Bishop (Research Coordinator I)
  • Antara Chatterjee (Research Coordinator I)
  • Annie Truuvert (Research Coordinator I)
  • Vishva Shah (Research Assistant II)
  • Negar Sayrafi (Research Assistant II)
  • Vivienne Wang (Research Assistant I)
  • Anushika Shanmuganathan (Research Assistant I)
  • Sahran Shafaque (Research Assistant I)
  • Louloua Waliji (Research Assistant I)
  • Kaniz Fatima (Research Assistant I

  • Shakked Lubotsky-Gete, PhD (Research Fellow)

Areas of Focus

Principal Investigators: Simone Vigod MD, MSc, FRCPC (Head, Department of Psychiatry), Elise Wright, MD, MSc, FRCPC, Lucy Barker MD, FRCPC, Renu Gupta MD, FRCPC, Lori Wasserman MD, FRCPC

Up to 20% of Canadian women will suffer from a mental illness related to a reproductive life stage such as the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, postpartum or menopause. Mental illness at the life stage around the time of pregnancy poses unique risks to mothers and their children at a critical junction of both of their lives. Our scientists are helping raise awareness about the gaps in access to specialized perinatal mental healthcare, as well as developing novel approaches to ensure all Canadians with mental illness around the time of pregnancy receive timely, effective care to improve outcomes for them and their families. We are conducting innovative research that leverages digital technologies including an online decision aid to help make choices about antidepressant use in pregnancy and an online platform to help connect pregnant and postpartum people with depression and anxiety to the right level of care for their needs.

Principal Investigators: Dana Ross MD, FRCPC, Nicole Koziel MD, FRCPC, Nancy McCallum MD, FRCPC

According to the Federal Framework Report on PTSD, ¾ of Canadians have been exposed to one or more traumatic events, with a 9.2% lifetime prevalence of PTSD. Despite this high prevalence rate, there are not enough services in the community offering treatment for individuals suffering from the ongoing effects of childhood physical, sexual, verbal, and psychological abuse. Trauma is a prevalent and profound determinant of health; its impacts can be devastating for individuals and costly for society. Increasing access to effective and appropriate levels of care for trauma survivors could have a significant impact on both an individual and societal level, including alleviating stress on the healthcare system. We are conducting innovative research to improve access to mental health care for individuals with a history of childhood interpersonal trauma, including an online trauma-focused psychoeducational and skill-building psychotherapy group that utilizes accepted principles in the approach to early-stage trauma recovery. We are also focused on new and innovative models of care, including adjunctive treatment using neurofeedback, and incorporating walking regimen into psychological treatments.

Principal Investigators: Aliza Israel MD, FRCPC (Child and Adolescent), Elise Wright MD, FRCPC

Over 20% of parents experience mental illness during pregnancy, the postpartum and when their children are toddler and elementary school age. Parental mental illness can lead to challenges in parental adjustment, such as difficulties regulating emotions and responding to infants and children. This, in turn, can negatively impact long-term child development. Interventions to support postpartum and early parenthood parental functioning among parents with mental illness are thus critical to improve maternal-child outcomes, but are not widely available, and many parents face challenges accessing this care. In our innovative “Mom and Baby Lab” research program, we are focused on interventions to improve access and effectiveness of care for parents and children with mental illness, with a focus on improving child outcomes across the lifespan. Current interventions include evaluation of a novel maternal-child therapy intervention for mothers of babies aged 12-18 months who have mental illness and a history of adverse childhood experiences, and a dialectical behaviour therapy group for parents with mental illness whose children are struggling with behavioural difficulties (partnership with CAMH). We are also working with the parents of children with medical complexity who are treated at the Hospital for Sick Children on a novel collaborative care intervention to prevent and treat parental depression and anxiety in this group.

Principal Investigators: Blana Bolea-Almanac MD PhD, Deanna Bruno MD FRCPC, Marisa Leon-Carlyle MD, FRCPC, Janet Lee-Evoy MD, FRCPC, Lucy Barker MD, FRCPC

In 2018, Statistics Canada found that an estimated 5.3 million Canadians reported a need for mental health services in the past year. Of this 53 million, 22% found their needs were only partially met and 21% found their needs were fully unmet. Barriers to accessing care can include cultural and language barriers, concerns about stigma, demographic inequities, a shortage of mental health care professionals and costs of services. Our program is committed to ensuring equitable access to mental health care for all, regardless of demographics. In this spirit, we are conducting research evaluating quality of virtual care as a means to increase mental health care accessibility. We are additionally targeting mental health care in vulnerable populations through community partnerships and innovative ambulatory care access models.

Principal Investigators: Dana Ross, MD, FRCPC, Inbal Gafni MD, FRCPC, Jovana Martinovic MD, FRCPC

Our department has a significant focus on Education Scholarship in which our health professional educators aim to foster academic excellence, innovation, and scholarly productivity in education through the design, implementation and evaluation of scholarly educational projects. Specific projects include the development of an online trauma therapy course for community providers, the National Reproductive Psychiatry Curriculum (in collaboration with education scholars at Johns Hopkins University), and best practices in assessment for postgraduate education trainees.

Active Clinical Studies Open for Enrollment

  • Maternal Mental Health of Ontario Virtual Intervention Network (MOVIN)
    • Many people who experience depression or anxiety during pregnancy and postpartum have a hard time accessing the appropriate care. The online MOVIN platform was created to help pregnant and postpartum people with depression and anxiety find suitable virtual treatment options. The platform includes many resources, access to a “care coordinator” to help people determine the best treatment option for them, link them to online mental health therapy interventions, and when needed arrange virtual e-consults to family doctors or direct patient video-consultation with the MOVIN reproductive mental health psychiatrist.
      Recruitment for this study has closed and the findings will be shared shortly.
  • Patient Decision Aid for Antidepressant Use in Pregnancy
    • Deciding to start or continue an antidepressant medication during pregnancy can be a difficult and complex decision. If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, deciding whether you should start or continue an antidepressant medication for the treatment of depression, and are conflicted about what to do, you may be eligible to participate in a study examining whether or not an interactive website is a helpful tool for women who are making this decision.
  • At-home Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation for Depression in Pregnancy
    • To prevent poor child outcomes, treatment of maternal depression in pregnancy is essential. However, for women who prefer not to use antidepressant medication to treat their depression, treatment options are limited. Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a focal form of neurostimulation to treat depression that may offer pregnant women an effective treatment option for their depression without exposing the fetus to the effects of medication. Our pilot study showed that participants had a positive experience with the treatment, there were no serious side effects for the participant or fetus, and symptoms of depression were reduced after tDCS treatment. The results suggest that tDCS can be beneficial in treating depression. Please contact: for opportunities for enrollment.
  • Electronic Measurement-Based Care for Perinatal Depression and Anxiety
    • Tracking symptoms of depression and anxiety during pregnancy and postpartum through self-report scales in the electronic hospital chart has the potential to tailor decisions about antidepressant medication to individual patients. Talk to your psychiatrist if you are interested in learning more about this study, or contact the research team at
  • SUMMIT Trial
    • Psychological treatments, including cognitive, behavioural and interpersonal therapies are effective in preventing and treating perinatal depression and anxiety but as few as 20% of people with perinatal depression are treatment with evidence-based psychological treatment. Barriers include childcare needs, unpredictable schedules and stigma, as well as a lack of financial resources and trained professionals. Worldwide non-specialist providers with no formal training in delivering mental health care have been successfully implements a form of psychological treatment called Behavioural Activation (BA). This research study examines if BA delivered by a non-specialist provider is as effective in treating perinatal symptoms of depression and anxiety as BA delivered by a specialist provider, and if BA delivered through telemedicine is as effective as in-person treatment.
      Talk to your psychiatrist if you are interested in learning more about this study, or contact the research team:

  • Optimizing Treatment for Parents of Children with Emotional and Behavioural Problems (OPTED)
    • Children with emotional and behavioural difficulties (EBD) experience disproportionate social, family and academic impairment and have between two to five times increased likelihood of developing an anxiety disorder, mood disorder or other severe mental illness in adolescence and adulthood. Similarly, parents of children with EBD experience disproportionate stress and mental illness that is not often sufficiently taken into account in standard behavioural parenting training (BPT) interventions. This project tests the feasibility of novel assessment and treatment approaches for depressed parents with children with EBD.
      For more information, contact the research team at
  • MOMBABY Study
    • The Mother-Infant Postpartum Psychotherapy Group in the Reproductive Life Stages Program at Women’s College Hospital was previously shown to be acceptable as an in-person group for both patients and providers. Our study is seeking to evaluate if the group is similarly acceptable when conducted virtually, as this may help us understand the treatment preferences of postpartum individuals and whether virtual psychotherapy may help to reduce certain barriers to care.

No opportunities currently open.

    • The Women’s College Hospital Trauma Therapy Project has developed a virtual training program for community partners to learn how to provide the Resourced & Resilient groups in their organizations in order to address the barriers of access to trauma-informed care within the community. This study consists of 3 phases. In the first two phases, WCH partnered with 6 organizations across Ontario who provided feedback and have then completed the virtual training program. We are currently conducting Phase 3, where health care providers at our community partner sites who have completed the virtual training program will become R&R facilitators and will offer the group at their site. An evaluation will be conducted to ensure that the intervention addresses the specific needs of the community providers. Through this project, we will increase trauma related mental healthcare provision capacity, reduce waitlists for trauma therapy, and more effectively match appropriate care to patients across the spectrum of trauma therapy.
      To learn more about the study, please contact the research team at