Building a community of support for new moms

Posted on July 28, 2017 by Juliet Bui, MSW, MPA

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 births1. 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 mothers2. 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 care3.

Another NIH study found that, on average, doctors spend less time talking about depression and building relationships with black patients than with others4. 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:

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.

Moms don’t have to go it alone. Check out NIH’s action plan and resources for moms and moms-to-be. These materials help answer important questions and start the conversation between mothers, providers, and communities, especially as we’re observing Minority Mental Health Awareness Month this July.