Postpartum Depression: Black Mothers Suffering in SilenceMar 18, 2021 08:00AM ● By Boitumelo Masihleho
Giving birth is never easy, but the postpartum depression (PPD) experience can be even more difficult. Although there's still a stigma around the mental health issue, more and more women have been opening up about their struggle with postpartum depression. Celebrities like Serena Williams, Cardi B, Chrissy Tiegen, and Meghan Markle have shared their experiences with PPD in an effort to break the taboo in the Black community.
Postpartum depression or PPD is a condition in which the new parent may experience persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness, low energy, anxiety, irritability, and poor sleep or appetite. PPD affects breastfeeding initiation and duration and can lead to poor maternal and infant bonding.
According to a 2017 study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), PPD affects over 11% of women in the United States, or 1 in 9 women. The study also found that PPD is often underdiagnosed and untreated, with nearly 60% of women with depressive symptoms not receiving a clinical diagnosis, and 50% of women with a diagnosis not receiving any treatment. However, the condition does not affect all women equally.
Women of color are at a higher risk of experiencing PPD than White women, and unfortunately are less likely to receive the care they need. A study published in the journal Psychiatric Services found significant racial-ethnic differences in depression-related mental health care after delivery. The study found that 9% of White women initiated postpartum mental health care compared to only 4% of Black women. The study also showed that among those who initiated treatment, Blacks and Latinas were less likely than Whites to receive follow-up treatment.
A professor in the Departments of Population Health Sciences, Obstetrics, and Gynecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dr. Tiffany Green said in an interview that the reasons why women of color are more likely to experience postpartum depression are complex.
“Black mothers experience higher rates of postpartum suicidal ideation relative to White women. Many of these racial and ethnic disparities persist after controlling for maternal educational attainment, income, marital status, and other measures of socioeconomic status,” Green explained.
One factor causing these disparities may be exposure to stress. A 2019 study found that Black, Latina, and Native American mothers are more likely to be exposed to clusters of serious stressors, including divorce, homelessness, and intimate partner violence. Maternal health experts said that some Black women choose to struggle on their own rather than seek care and risk having their families torn apart by child welfare services.
A New York Times article and some studies done at a national level reported that child welfare workers deem Black mothers unfit at a higher rate than they do White mothers, even when controlling for factors like education and poverty. “There’s a lack of trust of medical practitioners within the Black mom community nationwide,” explained Shivonne Odom, founder of Akoma Counseling Concepts, LLC, in Maryland, which specializes in maternal mental health counseling for mothers with perinatal disorders.
The cultural stigma surrounding PPD in the Black community is leading Black mothers to suffer in silence. “Some believe that if you go to therapy you have to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital or will be required to take addictive prescription medications,” said Odom. Despite this, there is a growing number of organizations ready to change the attitude of the Black community towards PPD. Maternity Care Coalition assists families throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania. The Perinatal Mental Health Alliance for People of Color provides education, resources, and support for individuals, families, and communities of color around perinatal mental health and wellness. Postpartum Support International offers a free helpline that moms can call 24 hours a day. Acknowledgment, respect, and support will help Black women overcome the challenges of PPD and allow them to seek treatment before it is too late.