Women of color, particularly Black women and women of African descent are less likely to be screened for PPD and less likely to get treatment and receive follow-up care. Results show that it is more likely for treatment teams to attribute symptoms of Black and Latin women to other ailments and not PPD.
To make it plain, while many women are never screened, women of color are bypassed in the screening process even more so, and when they do display symptoms of PPD, other factors are often blamed. Black women and women of African descent are consistently not getting the help they really need. This reality means it is vital for women who are at risk for perinatal mood disorders to be strong self-advocates while we work to change the systems that marginalize them.
People facing diagnosis of mental illness face significant difficulties around the stigmatization of having a mental health condition. When we factor in minority statuses, especially multiple overlapping minority identities, the stigma becomes heavier and far more damaging. This is what it means when activists and experts reference that African American and Black women are at the greatest risk in the maternal mental health discussion.
We believe that not a single mother should suffer in isolation with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADS). Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders do not discriminate, but systems do. Our response to systems that seek to disenfranchise women of color is to provide a tool to increase the quality of care Black women receive. Our African/Black Diaspora Checklist was designed with Black women in mind.
Our checklist was developed with feedback from clinical experts and patient input in order to empower Black women who are seeking support around their experiences with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. The checklist is designed to:
- Empower mothers to help themselves.
- Facilitate conversations that can be difficult for mothers to start with their doctors and other care providers.
- Reinforce the variety of recognized, evidence-based symptoms of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders to both mothers and clinicians.
- Reinforce the variety of recognized, evidence-based risk factors of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders to both mothers and clinicians.
- Help clinicians get a clearer picture of how to best assist their patients.
So what has changed?
We know that Black women and women of African descent experience a different range of symptoms and risk factors concerning PMADS. Additionally, Black women and women of African descent do not conceptualize their emotional experiences in the same way that other race and ethnic groups do. As a result, symptoms of depression may show up far more physical and less psychological.
Black and African women suffering with undiagnosed PMADS also have different environmental risk factors. Openly suffering from mental illness is something that is highly tabooed in the cultural relations of Black women (Schreiber et al). Among researchers of Black women’s experiences with depression, being strong repeatedly emerges as a key factor in their experiences (Beauboeuf-LaFontant, “You have to Show Strength” 35).
Clinicians and care providers must take into consideration the impact that race-based violence and oppression play in increasing the presentation of symptoms in Black women and women of African descent. Care providers who wish to provide quality care for Black women and women of African descent must be willing to change the lens to address the unique needs of this population.
As such, we’ve created the Black/African Diaspora New Mom Mental Health Checklist to help empower mothers of color speak directly to their clinicians. We hope it will help moms advocate for themselves and help clinicians recognize the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression and Black/African women.
Beauboeuf-LaFontant, Tamara. “You Have to Show Strength: An Exploration of Gender, Race, and Depression.” Gender & Society 21.1 (2007): 28-51. Web. 14 Jan. 2013.
Schreiber, Rita, Phyllis Noerager Stern, and Charmaine Wilson. “Being Strong: How Black West-Indian Canadian Women Manage Depression and Its Stigma.” Journal of Nursing Scholarship 32.1 (2000): 39-45. Web. 26 Feb. 2013