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Suffering in Silence

Mood Disorders Among Pregnant and Postpartum Women of Color

This article was originally published on the Center for American Progress website.

Introduction and summary

Pregnancy and childbirth can bring joy and fulfillment to a woman’s life. They can also bring anxiety, depression, and stress. If left untreated, postpartum depression and other mood disorders can grow severe and even fatal for both the mother and her child. The American Psychological Association estimates that 1 in 7 women experience postpartum depression, yet the true statistic is unknown, as most women do not recognize the symptoms associated with the condition.1

According to the World Health Organization, pregnant and postpartum women experiencing severe forms of mental disorders may commit suicide.2 Perinatal mood disorders—including postpartum depression—can affect any woman, yet women of color often face life circumstances that increase their likelihood of experiencing perinatal mood disorders.3Studies have shown that women of color experience postpartum depression at a rate of close to 38 percent compared with approximately 13 to 19 percent for all postpartum women.4 The racial disparity is vast and mirrors major gaps in both screening and treatment for mood disorders among women.

This report touches upon mood disorders for different groups of women of color, shedding particular light on the unique experiences of black pregnant and postpartum women facing mental health issues. It also draws connections between social, economic, and political adversities and higher rates of perinatal mood disorders. The adversities discussed include lack of access to mental health services, economic insecurity, strong black woman syndrome, gender discrimination, and racism. The personal testimonies of black women affected by perinatal mood disorders can be found in text boxes throughout this report.*

Finally, this report outlines the following recommendations for policymakers, health care providers, researchers, and advocates in order to better address perinatal mood disorders among women of color:

  • Support comprehensive health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including mental health services and maternity care.
  • Improve access to culturally competent and well-trained mental health care providers.
  • Fully fund the MOTHERS Act.
  • Support the integration of mental health screenings into other health care settings.
  • Fund large-scale, culturally appropriate public education campaigns.
  • Conduct additional research on perinatal mood disorders.
  • Develop policies and education campaigns in a way that takes into account the lived experiences of pregnant and postpartum women of color.
  • Educate health care providers, patients, and communities about the importance of mental health care access.
  • Support culture shift efforts.
  • Amplify and support women of color-led organizations.
  • Support policies that improve work-family balance for women in the workplace.

These actions are critical to helping ensure that pregnant and postpartum women of color can stop suffering in silence and can gain access to the necessary supports and services in times when they are experiencing perinatal mood disorders.

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