Caring For Black Mamas
I recently had a conversation with a family member about mental health. She felt that if we had faith, we shouldn't get depressed. I was shocked, but shouldn't have been. This isn't the first time I've heard similar sentiments. You may have as well. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, it's irresponsible to disregard mental health issues. I understand the reasons why, I mean we had to survive, so there wasn't a lot of time to spend on thriving. We're in a different space now and frankly that is no longer acceptable. Mindsets such as my cousin's is a highly plausible reason why many black women suffering from postpartum depression and other perinatal mood or anxiety disorders are un-diagnosed or misdiagnosed and untreated. Many black women and women of color suffer in silence because admitting real struggles are often perceived as weaknesses. Asking for help requires even more courage than admitting things aren't quite right. Yet if we admit we are struggling and ask for help, we still have to cross are fingers and hope to receive the support we need, when our entire village operates on the mantra of "only the strong survive". This is likely why the "Centering Black Mamas" segment of #BMHW20 resonated with me the most. Black Maternal Health Week, held annually in April, provides relevant information on and draws awareness to maternal health issues in the black community. It is hosted by the #BlackMamasMatterAlliance. Though there were no local events held this year in #Huntsville due to "Rona", it was great to tune in to some important webinars impacting maternal health focused on black women and women of color. Kay Matthews, founder of the Shades of Blue Project and panel member believes maternal mental health for women of color can only improve with acknowledgement, respect and support. So yes, we must be strong, but I'd like to challenge us to redefine what strength looks like so that we can thrive on this journey called motherhood. Since we know that knowledge yields power, I'd like to provide some information regarding mental health during pregnancy and postpartum and hope it will strengthen you or someone you know.
Perinatal Mood or Anxiety Disorders (#PMAD) affect mood and anxiety in 15-20% of women. These disorders can occur during pregnancy and up to a year after according to Postpartum Support International or #PSI. There are many factors that may increase a person's risk including race. Yes, African-American and Latina women are at a higher risk for these disorders than white women. The reasons for this disparity are unknown, but researchers believe and I agree, that stigmas associated around mental health in these communities of color play a large role. Additionally, being in a lower income bracket, which impacts one's ability to care for their children, along with limited access to quality medical care, a lack of social support, lingering effects of childhood trauma, dealing with domestic violence and thoughtful mandatory PMAD screening, are all worth exploring to close this gap and provide all women the help they need. Other risk factors that apply across the board are:
1. History - substance abuse, depression or previous pregnancy or birth complications
2. Genetics - family history of mental illness
3. Family/Friends - lack of support, relationship issues with partner
4. Age - young mothers or moms that have given birth to premature babies
5. Race - as previously mentioned, how the Black and Latina culture address mental health along with disparities in socioeconomic status increase our risk compared to white women
Women and their support team (partners, family, friends, doulas) should know that due to a lack of sleep and hormonal changes associated with pregnancy and birth, mood changes are to be expected. The "baby blues" lasts up to a few weeks and usually subsides on its own, without any medical treatment. However, with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, one will see more extreme mood and anxiety shifts that require medical attention. Although postpartum depression is the most common perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, PMADs vary and may look different in each woman. The following chart gives a brief view of the various PMADs.
It's important to know that if you are suffering, you are not alone. There is support to help navigate this experience. Suffering in silence is not a sign of strength. If you or someone you know may be suffering from a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, reach out for help.
Postpartum Support International www.postpartum.net
PSI in Huntsville, AL or Birmingham, AL https://psichapters.com/al/
If your in an emergency situation contact your doctor or one of these hotlines below:
Text HOME to 741741 to reach the National Crisis Text Line
Call 1-800-273-8255 or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
For more information on black women's health visit