The reproductive psychiatrist working with a nationwide team to create a standardized curriculum for women’s mental health.
Dr. Lucy Hutner is a leader in the field of reproductive psychiatry, an emerging medical specialty that focuses on women’s mental health throughout preconception, pregnancy, and postpartum. We met at Alma, a beautiful new Midtown mental health practice space that she belongs to, and chatted about the small, but growing, field that — as she puts it — “has gone from a whisper to a roar.” Read on to learn how Dr. Hutner has witnessed this field expand exponentially over the last decade, and how celebrities like Cardi B and Adele play an important role in reducing the stigma of postpartum depression.
“What really drew me into medicine was the opportunity to do two things: The first was the challenge of thinking scientifically and rigorously, and the second was witnessing the unfolding of people’s lives. I love doing the former, but I feel truly grateful to do the latter.”
From Obstetrics to Psychiatry
In medical school at UCSF, I loved learning everything I could about pregnancy and childbirth, so naturally I assumed I would go into obstetrics-gynecology. But as I started to do more advanced rotations, I realized what I loved even more: to listen and to bear witness to each women’s journey in becoming a parent. I come from a family of academics and artists — as a doctor, I’m sort of a black sheep — so it makes sense that the narrative of patients’ lives was the most interesting thing to me of all. I trained in psychiatry at Harvard at Massachusetts General Hospital/McLean, which was terrific because it is home to some of the pioneers in the medical specialty of reproductive psychiatry.
After completing fellowship at Columbia, I got the chance to help to create the women’s mental health program there. It was great timing because there had never been a comprehensive reproductive psychiatry program at Columbia before, so my colleagues and I got the chance to build it from scratch. There was nowhere to go but up. The leadership at Columbia was really forward-thinking and supportive — for example, our program had one of the first fellowships in this specialty in the United States. So in a sense things came full circle because I now spend almost all of my time talking with preconception, pregnant, and postpartum patients, and collaborating with OBs and midwives. I’m never far away from my first love of pregnancy and childbirth.
A Medical Specialty Emerges
For the last several years, my most fun project has been being part of the leadership team of the National Task Force for Women’s Reproductive Mental Health. It’s a collaboration of over twenty institutions nationwide that are, together, creating the first digital standardized curriculum for reproductive psychiatry. The impetus for the curriculum was the gap between the clinical need for perinatal mental healthcare versus the amount of education available in this area within medicine. And that gap is truly immense.
For example, postpartum depression is widely considered to be the most common complication of childbirth — affecting approximately 20% of all births in the United States. Yet up to now there had been no standardized curriculum in our specialty in all of psychiatry or medicine. Our colleagues in psychology, social work, and nursing have been focusing on this area for a long time. We in medicine are finally catching up.
Our field is all about giving women and their families a voice. When prominent people like Beyoncé, Adele, and Cardi B use their powerful platforms to say that they have struggled in becoming a parent, it gives permission to other people to say that they’ve struggled too.
As a field, we are hoping to send the message to women that their experiences and their voices matter. That they matter.
What’s Next in Women’s Mental Health
Our specialty has been growing exponentially year by year — especially from an education standpoint, which is the part I am most involved with. We are now at the stage where postgraduate training fellowships are starting to spring up all over the country, not just in select metropolitan areas. We are building the foundation of this medical specialty in terms of clinical care, research, and advocacy. On a personal level, it’s amazing to get to contribute to an emerging field of knowledge that has the potential to help our patients heal, be well, and thrive. We are opening the lid on a closed box of knowledge — and this rich, incredible world has come pouring out. I am so grateful that I get to have a small part in this collective vision coming to fruition.
One thing I wish more people knew…that if they are struggling in the transition to becoming a parent, there is help out there.
Phrase that I live by…it’s perfectly okay to be good enough.
I feel looked after when…five minutes after a pedicure when I look down and see the perfect shade of lavender polish on my toes.
NYC fall activity: The moment when I am walking around Prospect Park in Brooklyn feeling the cold air on my face, and I spot a tree where all of its leaves have turned a deep cherry red.
Coffee spot: Right now my favorite is the almond milk latte from Blue Bottle. The robin’s egg blue on their cups is such a happy color.
Yoga: I love the practice of yoga nidra. It’s a deeply restorative yoga practice focused on improving sleep. I feel like it should be more famous than it is. Sleep is crucial and is a fundamental part of mental health.
You can learn more about Dr. Lucy Hutner here.
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