Breaking the Silence: Maternal Mental Health

14 May Breaking the Silence: Maternal Mental Health

“Medical racism is a silent assailant in the journey of Black motherhood, casting shadows of disparity and injustice. Its insidious grip tightens around the throats of Black women, disproportionately burdening them with higher maternal mortality rates and substandard care during childbirth. It’s time to confront this systemic injustice head-on, ensuring that every Black mother receives equitable access to healthcare and support, free from the shackles of discrimination and bias,” says Tamika Johnson, Community Organizer with CoCo partner at Mothering Justice in Detroit, Michigan.

Each May, the spotlight focuses on Maternal Mental Health. This also coincides with Maternal Mental Health Week and Day which also take place during May. Maternal mental health is a critical component of overall well-being during and after pregnancy, yet Black and Brown women in America face unique challenges and disparities in this area. 

“Access to mental health care is a challenge for people of all ages, but it has particular importance for new mothers: about 1 in 8 new mothers experience mood and anxiety disorders during pregnancy or postpartum, and rates are higher among low-income moms. Half of the pregnant women with depression were not treated, which puts them, their babies, and their families at risk of harm. Research shows that babies whose primary caregivers are experiencing depression are at greater risk of developmental and behavioral delays, and pregnant women experiencing depression are more likely to deliver their babies prematurely.”–Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy

The Fear of Dying in Childbirth Is Very Real for Women of Color

Black maternal mental health is a pressing issue that demands attention, as Black mothers experience higher rates of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, postpartum depression, and other mental health conditions compared to their white counterparts. The intersection of systemic racism, social determinants of health, and cultural stigma create barriers to accessing quality mental health care and support for Black mothers. By shedding light on the complexities of Black maternal mental health, we can work towards dismantling these barriers and promoting holistic well-being for Black mothers and their families.

Most states received a D or F grade on maternal mental health. It could get worse.

The Impact of Systemic Racism on Black Maternal Mental Health:

Systemic racism permeates every aspect of society, including healthcare systems, and has a profound impact on the mental health of Black mothers. Structural inequalities, discrimination, and bias within healthcare settings contribute to disparities in maternal mental health outcomes for Black women. Studies have shown that Black women are less likely to receive timely and appropriate mental health care during and after pregnancy, leading to higher rates of untreated mental health conditions and adverse outcomes. The stress of navigating racism and discrimination can also exacerbate mental health challenges for Black mothers, further underscoring the need for culturally competent and anti-racist mental health support.  Furthermore, historical traumas, such as the legacy of slavery, racism, and intergenerational trauma, can impact the mental health of Black mothers and contribute to feelings of shame, guilt, and isolation. It is essential to create safe spaces and culturally affirming resources that validate the experiences of Black mothers and promote healing and well-being.

“As a kid, I had a lot of undiagnosed anxiety and obsessive-compulsive issues, but I grew up in a household that stigmatized mental illness. I thought that admitting I needed help showed weakness. But I learned from experience that becoming a mom can definitely take a toll on your well-being, especially during the postpartum period. In my case, I started having dark thoughts and obsessing about the dangers of the world and the vulnerability of my own children. All this was compounded by the severe sleep deprivation from having two babies just 16 months apart. It was excruciating and got better only once I became open to therapy.” —Bekah Martinez, Parents Latina, March 2021

Cultural Stigma and Barriers to Care:

In addition to systemic challenges, cultural stigma and misconceptions surrounding mental health within the Brown community can prevent mothers from seeking help and support. The strong emphasis on strength, resilience, and self-reliance can create barriers to acknowledging and addressing mental health concerns. Addressing the mental health needs of Brown mothers requires a multifaceted approach that centers on holistic well-being and community support. 

Culturally responsive mental health services, peer support groups, and community-based programs can provide Black and Brown mothers with the resources and tools they need to prioritize their mental health and seek help when needed. Education and awareness campaigns that destigmatize mental health and promote self-care and resilience can empower mothers to advocate for their well-being and access quality care. By fostering a supportive and inclusive environment that values mental health, we can work towards breaking the silence surrounding maternal mental health needs and promoting healing.

 “Medical racism extends its reach into the sacred postpartum period, where Black women face not only the physical tolls of childbirth but also the emotional and mental weight of systemic neglect. From disparities in postpartum care to dismissive attitudes toward our pain and concerns, Black mothers are forced to navigate a landscape of inequity and indifference. It’s imperative that we confront this injustice and ensure that Black mothers receive the comprehensive support and care they need to thrive,” Johnson concludes.

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