Doctoral student researching how to prevent postpartum anxiety recognized with provincial honours
Melissa Furtado is doing something remarkable as a doctoral student.
“Not many trainees at this stage of their career can say ‘I’ve uncovered a risk factor for a pervasive mental health problem, and I’m now developing a treatment to reduce such risk’,” say Melissa’s supervisors Dr. Sheryl Green and Dr. Benicio Frey. “Melissa has done just that.”
Through her dissertation research and associated clinical work, Melissa is exploring whether postpartum anxiety can be prevented through a focused psychotherapeutic treatment during pregnancy. The treatment could become the first low-risk preventative strategy for postpartum anxiety.
As many as one in five women experience an anxiety disorder from the time they become pregnant up to a year after giving birth. Anxiety during pregnancy is associated with adverse outcomes in both mothers and infants.
“Melissa’s research has the potential to prevent a lot of suffering and impaired functionality in mothers at such a critical time,” say Dr. Green and Dr. Frey who supervise Melissa in the Research and Clinical Training Stream in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behavior and work together at the Women’s Health Concerns Clinic at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton. “It has been our absolute pleasure to supervise Melissa during her masters and Ph.D.”
The Ontario government has invested in Melissa’s transformative women’s health research with three consecutive Ontario Women’s Health Scholars Awards. The annual awards, administered by the Council of Ontario Universities, provide scholarships of up to $50,000 to researchers at Ontario universities who are improving the health and well-being of women across the province. Melissa was one of 10 scholars to receive the award in 2023.
A doctoral student in the Research and Clinical Training Stream in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behavior, Melissa was introduced to the field of perinatal mental health during her master’s degree. Working with perinatal women inspired Melissa to pursue clinical psychology with the goal of becoming a scientist-practitioner.
“Their experiences motivated me to help identify risk factors that could aid in early detection of perinatal anxiety and from there, develop a potentially preventative psychotherapeutic treatment during such a vulnerable time in their lives,” says Melissa.
“The willingness and motivation of all the women who’ve participated in our study drives our work.”
Melissa also credits her supervisors. Dr. Green, a clinical and health psychologist, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Neurosciences and Co-Director of Clinical Training in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behavior. Dr. Benicio Frey is a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, Medical Director of the Women’s Health Concerns Clinic at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, Academic Head of McMaster’s Mood Disorders Clinic, Director of the Centre for Clinical Neurosciences and Director of the Canadian Biomarker Integration Network in Depression.
“Dr. Green and Dr. Frey have been instrumental in both my research and clinical training,” says Melissa. “They’ve provided endless and invaluable support and mentorship.”Awards, Students