New moms have a lot to juggle. In the midst of all this, it’s easy to forget about their health, especially mental health. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), postpartum depression and anxiety occurs for mothers in 15% of births.
Postpartum depression is when feelings of sadness, anxiousness, and emptiness affect day-to-day life around the time of birth. Physical and emotional factors, including the big hormonal changes that come with pregnancy, cause the condition.
Fortunately, there are treatments for PMAD, such as talk therapy, antidepressant medications, or a combination of the two that can help.
Here’s the problem: Not every mom has the opportunity to receive treatment.
Mothers of color are more likely to develop depression and anxiety than white mothers. This is because stress is a proven contributor, and minority communities often face more racial and socioeconomic stressors. They are also less likely to receive postpartum mental health treatment. The largest gaps exist in three areas: access, diagnosis, and community support.
All new moms face challenges in taking care of themselves while caring for a newborn; lack of time, transportation, and medical costs all stand in the way. Mothers of color, however, can face additional challenges. A recent NIH study found that black and Latina mothers were half as likely to receive postpartum mental health care.
Another NIH study found that, on average, doctors spend less time talking about depression and building relationships with black patients than with others. And, when mental health was discussed, physicians were less able to recognize depression in black patients.
Here are three strategies for clinicians to improve maternal mental health equity:
- Implement mental health screenings and follow-up with treatment referrals. The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recently recommended(link is external) that all pregnant women be screened for postpartum depression and anxiety.
- Utilize cultural competency resources to better understand and serve patients.
- Consult the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Toolkit for Family Service Providers for more information and strategies.
Without strong family or social support, many mothers can suffer from depression by themselves. Shame and stigma are too often associated with mental health challenges. Additionally, it can be worse for communities of color, where cultural norms can discourage moms from seeking help.
There are also resources for friends and family members to support new mothers, such as the NIH Child and Maternal Health Education Program Mom’s Mental Health Matters Initiative.