Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Asher Center for the Study and Treatment of Depressive Disorders

Center Director's Message

Thank you for your interest in our work at the Asher Center for the Study and Treatment of Depressive Disorders. I have had the honor of serving as the Norman and Helen Asher Professor and Director of the center since July 2012. My primary research interest is the treatment of mood disorders across the female reproductive lifespan, with an emphasis on the perinatal period.

The initial driving force behind my chosen area of investigation was being appalled at the lack of information to guide the mental healthcare of pregnant women. As a resident trainee on a psychiatric inpatient unit, I watched in horror as a pregnant woman with psychosis repeatedly threw herself against the seclusion room wall. The attending physician said, “She can’t be medicated, she’s pregnant,” and “No straitjacket restraint, it might compress the uterus.” About another pregnant woman who was suicidal, a faculty supervisor said, “But Kathie, women aren’t depressed during pregnancy – they are fulfilled.” I was acutely aware of the need for research—or, more relevant to these examples, common sense—to guide the treatment of mentally ill pregnant women.

These incidents were decades ago, and I am very pleased that women’s mental healthcare and perinatal psychiatry have grown tremendously, so much so that psychiatric residents of today are pursuing this specialty area. One of my greatest career satisfactions is being one of the researchers contributing to the knowledge base in this area and encouraging young professionals in this field. 

Our Current Landscape

One of five women and one of eight men in America will have an episode of major depression during their lifetime. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America. In 1999, Surgeon General David Satcher said that mental health is fundamental to heath, but the stigma associated with mental illness has not diminished over the past two decades despite the public’s increased awareness of the neurobiological underpinnings.

Our Call to Action

It is these very challenges that make the work of the Asher Center so much more meaningful, powerful, and motivating. I have seen the frustration of so many people suffering from depression. Observing the strength required of these people (as well as their families and loved ones) to recover, to improve, or just be, throughout my career has been a powerful motivator to find new concepts, acceptable and accessible treatments, and answers.     

To the Asher Family, particularly Don and Carol, I am very grateful, not only for the honor of receiving the Norman and Helen Asher Chair in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, but also for their friendship and kindness. I pledge that the Asher Center will be a place of hope for people with mood disorders.

I welcome your comments and questions. Please contact the center for more information.

Asher Center Director Dr. Katherine Wisner

Katherine L Wisner, MD
Director, Asher Center for the Study and Treatment of Depressive Disorders
Norman and Helen Asher Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Science and Obstetrics and Gynecology