Postpartum Depression in Black Women Is a Silent Epidemic
Black women are at a higher risk for mental health issues post-birth, and less likely to get the help they need
When Imani Bates, 31, realized she had lost control over her pelvic and gluteal muscles shortly after giving birth, she felt profoundly disconnected from her body.
“I woke up and I couldn’t move them,” she says.“They were in complete paralysis. I panicked.”
Adjusting to dramatic physical changes so soon after birth triggered feelings of ineptitude for Bates, and catalyzed the onset of postpartum depression. “I began crying and blaming myself for having a natural, vaginal birth,” she recalls.“I thought my body failed me. I felt completely inadequate. I remember looking at my son and thinking he should have a better mother than me.”
Recent research on postpartum depression (PPD) suggests a link between the physical pain that new mothers experience and their risk for PPD. In a 2018 study, researchers concluded that the pain experienced by women following birth, rather than during labor and delivery, may be the primary culprit. But data on PPD risk often overlooks the ways that race and racism might increase the chances that Black women experience birth-related depression. That’s despite the fact that Black women are at an increased risk for childbirth complications, bias during medical care, and even maternal death.
Today, thankfully, PPD is more widely addressed in pregnancy-related discussions, but Black women like myself often struggle to find our place in the dialogue. The Black community has a history of emphasizing personal strength and self-sufficiency, which can decrease the chance that Black women seek assistance when their sadness becomes more than “the baby blues.”
Not only are Black women underserved, but they face an increased risk of mental health issues post-birth. While 20 percent of women display symptoms of perinatal mood or anxiety disorder (PMAD), like anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, the figure climbs to 44 percent for Black women, compared to 31 percent for white women. Despite this prevalence, Black women face a myriad of social, economic, and cultural obstacles when seeking…