A Moment with Samantha Meltzer-Brody is part of our interview series featuring thought leaders in research and healthcare. Each interview includes 7 short and stimulating questions.
Samantha Meltzer-Brody, MD, MPH is the Assad Meymandi Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She also directs the UNC Center for Women’s Mood Disorders and is an executive sponsor of the UNC SOM and UNC Health Well-Being initiative. For more from Dr. Meltzer-Brody, find her on Twitter.
1. Tell us something we don’t know. (Anything!)
I am from the Pro Football Hall of Fame City: Canton, Ohio. My midwestern roots inform a lot of things about me, even though I have lived in North Carolina for 25 years.
2. Which fiction book would you recommend to researchers and innovators in healthcare, and why?
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner is all about family drama and dysfunction, and there are so many psychological components that I really appreciate as a psychiatrist, from the rich thought processes of its characters to the way it’s written, interweaving stories and voices through Faulkner’s stream of consciousness narration.
3. What are you working on right now that you’re excited about?
Two things. First, I am excited about using digital technology for research and clinical care. There’s an incredible transformation going on in the telepsychiatry space. It took a global pandemic for payers to decide to pay for telepsychiatry, but now that the genie’s out of the bottle, it will be tough to go back to the pre-pandemic way. This transformation presents many opportunities to increase access to mental healthcare.
Second, I’m involved in novel drug development for mental health. I’ve had the opportunity to serve as the academic PI in the clinical trials with brexanolone, the first postpartum depression drug approved by the FDA. We continue to be involved in clinical trials with brexanolone and other novel pharmacologic therapies. Our goal is to improve our ability to effectively treat women who suffer from perinatal mood disorders by having new tools available that provide additional and novel treatment options.
4. Who’s doing something that you admire in healthcare today, and why is it so cool?
There’s an extraordinarily long list of people doing amazing things in healthcare, especially with digital healthcare. Talkspace, for example, is an impressive platform that is both increasing acceptance of therapy and access. Using role models with mental health issues like Michael Phelps and Demi Lovato in their marketing successfully breaks down barriers around stigma. And since it’s all online, it increases access because you don’t have to travel to an office to seek help, a feature that is particularly beneficial for rural communities with fewer mental health spaces. Of course, since I work at a public institution, we also have to be mindful of how we provide care to the entire population. Talkspace is costly and would be prohibitive to many women who are not able to pay for this type of intervention.
5. What’s the biggest barrier to getting things done in your line of work?
The business of healthcare is complex, and you need to not only have great ideas and fantastic implementation, but also have funding. There continue to be issues with parity in reimbursement, and we need to move beyond the perceived dichotomy where medical illness is seen as important (and is adequately reimbursed) while mental health is viewed as less important (and has greater challenges with reimbursement).
6. Imagine you win an award for impacting healthcare. What did you do?
I made a meaningful impact to improve the lives of people who suffer from mental illness. In my line of work, I would dramatically improve the quality of life in the space of women’s mental health.
7. What advice would you give innovators in healthcare?
Any innovation is going to have to blaze new trails, and by definition, there will be a long lines of people telling you it can’t be done. You have to ignore the naysayers because there will always be resistance to challenging the status quo, regardless of whether the status quo needs to change.
More about Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, MD
Dr. Meltzer-Brody is an internationally recognized physician-scientist in perinatal depression. Dr. Meltzer-Brody received the 2020 O Max Gardner award, a UNC System Award (17 universities) for the highest faculty honor. She is also the recipient of the 2019 American Psychiatric Association Alexandra Symonds Award in Women’s Mental Health. She was recently named to the 2021 Forbes list of “Women Over 50 Working to Improve Our Collective Mental Health.” Dr. Meltzer-Brody founded the UNC Perinatal Psychiatry Program in 2004 and became Chair of the UNC Department of Psychiatry in October 2019.
Her work has focused on developing a comprehensive integrated clinical and research program in Women’s Mood Disorders across the reproductive life cycle. She investigates the epidemiologic and biological predictors of perinatal depression (PND) including genetic, neurosteroid and other neuroendocrine biomarkers as well as the impact of adverse life events.
Dr. Meltzer-Brody has been the academic PI for novel clinical trials developing an effective (now FDA approved) new pharmacologic treatment for postpartum depression (brexanolone).
Currently, she is the co-PI of a large PCORI grant to study psychological interventions including training non-mental health specialists for perinatal depression.
She is also the founder and lead of the Postpartum Depression Action Towards and Treatment (PACT) Consortium, and co-PI on a smartphone app (originally named PPD ACT and now rebranded as MOM GENES) that is large scale international genetic study of PPD and postpartum.
Lastly, Dr. Meltzer-Brody has been collaborating in perinatal depression initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa in Malawi and Zambia.