Alex is a senior in the School of Social Work. Alex serves as a mentor with Illini Mentoring and leads workshops and education on various topics for the Women’s Resource Center. She has been working with the Identifying Depression through Early Awareness (IDEA) Research Team, and the IDEA Women’s Health Coalition for a little over a year. While she has no personal experience with perinatal depression, her work with the project has really opened her eyes to the health disparities present in maternal health care. She hopes to take these experiences with her into the field after she earns her Master of Social Work. She’d like to gain some practical experience before returning to school to pursue her doctoral degree in social work.
The IDEA Research team is interested in identifying major risk factors associated with depressive disorders for women. They are particularly focused on collaborative care approaches for identifying and assessing depressive symptoms in health care settings to improve health outcomes for women over the life course. For her project this summer, Alex has been instrumental in implementing a patient-led qualitative interview study looking at the experiences and perceptions of perinatal depression screening among racial and ethnic minority groups. Patient-researchers are trained to conduct qualitative interviews of those who have undergone perinatal depression screening in the past two years with the goal of improving the screening experience and treatment follow-through for perinatal women in the community. Alex has been helping to create training materials for IDEA’s patient-researchers, recruit participants, supervise interviews, manage demographic analysis, attend and co-lead the advisory board meetings, and watch the children while their mothers are being interviewed.
IDEA Women’s Health Coalition was formed with an award from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute. The coalition—patients, providers, and community members—has been instrumental in shaping the direction that this research has taken. This is important, explains project investigator Wen-Hao David Huang, associate professor of education policy, organization and leadership, because one of the overarching goals is to create systems that engage patients and that continue to engage them throughout the process to get the treatment and assistance they need. Meghan Kirkpatrick, IDEA Women’s Health Coalition board member and project manager, agrees that the patient voice plays a valuable role in this instance. “I think it’s really important that researchers sit down with patients. As much as patients need training and on how to be researchers, researchers need training on how to connect with patients.”
A second, more immediate, benefit of the patient advisory board is their ability to disseminate knowledge to those who need it most in our community. Huang explains that this is key to increasing awareness. “These patient-researchers can share their experience and knowledge with family members, friends, and colleagues, ask impactful questions of someone struggling with perinatal mental health issues, and let them know about resources available in our community.”
The project has been a great learning opportunity for Alex, who has learned more about designing, conducting, and analyzing qualitative studies. As a social work student, the experience has broadened her understanding of research and the impact patient-center research can have. “The most meaningful part of this experience has been witnessing patients, providers, and researchers come together to share perspectives, experiences, and ideas.” In fact, she shares that it changed the course of her undergraduate experience. “Through the connections I have made with patients and mothers in the community as well as the responsibilities I have been given as a research assistant, I now see myself as a leader, friend, and most importantly a learner in the community.”