For Black Moms Battling Postpartum Depression, Seeking Help Is Not Always Easy

Tahwii Spicer’s birthing experience was fairly easy. She had chosen to have her daughter at a birthing center and the presence of her family members made her feel at ease. After the birth of her daughter in June 2018, Spicer hired a postpartum doula to aid in taking care of the baby.

However, a few days after giving birth, things began to change. Her husband had received news that he was going out of state for a whole month and dealing with the news while still taking care of a newborn and a young toddler began to take its toll on Spicer’s mental health.

“Just thinking about that was stressful,” Spicer said. “I was heartbroken that he would miss so much of that time with the baby and lose out on some of that new bonding time.”

Spicer was overwhelmed and distraught, but what she didn’t realize was that there was more to her feelings than her husband’s departure.

“One day, I remember coming downstairs with the baby and needed to change her diaper or something,” Spicer recalled. “I didn’t have everything I needed and I broke down and started crying in front of my husband. I had already been sort of short-tempered, irritated easily and I was not sleeping well because of the nursing all night long.”

After taking a postpartum depression (PPD) test online — which confirmed that she indeed was battling the illness, Spicer finally reached out to her midwife for help.

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Two years after Spicer gave birth to her daughter, Candice D’Angelo from Miami gave birth to her son in March 2020. Since it was in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, this meant being stuck at home alone with a newborn and two other children.

“I was very alone because my husband had to continue to work,” D’Angelo explained.

However, when the depressive symptoms started to kick in, she simply thought that they were tied to pregnancy hormones. “I was crying a lot, a sort of lonely, continuous cry that didn’t really stop,” she explained. “I also had a lot of anxiety, especially during the nighttime, and I felt like I wanted to get out of the house and run away.”

It was only after D’Angelo talked to a friend that she realized that she had PPD and started seeking professional help.

Like Spicer and D’Angelo, many women experience depression after giving birth.

Current data from the Centers for Disease, Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that over 11 percent of women in the United States get postpartum depression. However, research has shown that Black women experience it at a higher rate than white women. One study published in Obstetrics and Gynecology revealed that Black women were more than twice as likely to experience PPD symptoms as white women.

For Black moms, these statistics trace back to a plethora of factors like a history of traumatic birth experiences and a higher possibility of maternal deaths which can spike their anxiety. Some Black women also reside in stressful living environments, have food and housing insecurity and lack access to quality health care, which are all contributing factors to PPD.

Despite these higher incidences, Black moms are less likely to receive treatment for postpartum depression. Studies have found a stark contrast in the treatment of PPD, with 57 percent of Black women being less likely to start treatment, the highest percentage among all races.

“The significant disparities and historically traumatic medical practices conducted on Black bodies has led to a distrust in the healthcare system. Many Black women also lack representation in healthcare due to the lack of diversity and experience inaccurate diagnosing.”

“The significant disparities and historically traumatic medical practices conducted on Black bodies has led to a distrust in the healthcare system,” explained Shontel Cargill, LMFT, Regional Clinical Director at Thriveworks and specialist in postpartum and perinatal mental health. “Many Black women also lack representation in healthcare due to the lack of diversity and experience inaccurate diagnosing.” In other cases, some medical professionals may delay screening Black women for postpartum depression.

D’Angelo, for instance, narrated how she had to advocate for herself to get help.

“Looking back, I feel as though my doctor should have had better protocols and checks in place to monitor patients postpartum,” she explained. “It was my primary care doctor that discovered the signs and wanted to screen me. But even then, it still wasn’t done right away.”

Many Black women also choose to struggle with the symptoms on their own for fear of being deemed as an unfit mom and risk having child-welfare services getting involved.

While this wasn’t inherently a big fear for D’Angelo, the thought that her doctors had a duty to call child services on patients that were labeled with depression still crossed her mind.

In addition, stigma of perceptions of mental illnesses in the Black community also plays a role in the lack of treatment for mental illnesses. According to the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry, only about 25 percent of Black people seek mental care as opposed to 40 percent of white people. More often than not, many Black people usually resort to seeking religious guidance and support from friends and family as opposed to professional help when faced with psychological difficulties.

Rachel Woodley, a London-based certified counselor at The Lifeline Counselling, told us that Black women have spoken to her about being a mother as something that they are supposed to do, therefore the idea that struggling in what is made to feel like a huge part of your purpose can cause an internal narrative that leads women to think or say that they are okay.

“Often, what they mean is that ‘you won’t understand’ or ‘you won’t help me anyway,’” she said.

However, it’s important for Black women to educate themselves on postpartum depression and what it looks like. The National Health Service (NHS) has listed some common early symptoms of postpartum depression and what to do if you start experiencing such symptoms (or if you spot them with your loved one).

There are also various online resources dedicated to PPD and mental health in Black women such as:

  • She Matters: A community designed to support the mental health needs of Black women.
  • Postpartum Support International (PSI): Founded to increase awareness about the emotional changes that women experience during pregnancy and postpartum.
  • The Motherhood Group: An online group dedicated to share and support the Black maternal experience.

Spicer and D’Angelo were lucky enough to get the professional help they needed. However, for many other Black women, accessing affordable mental health services is still a tall order.

“Private therapy feels like a luxury and it shouldn’t,” Woodley added. “Mental health services like to refer internally, and there isn’t enough representation there. We need to be able to outsource who we work with so that we can break some of the barriers to accessing mental health services.”

You should also not feel ashamed to seek professional help. The narrative that Black women are strong has for years presented a false notion that seeking help is a sign of weakness. However, the truth of the matter is that we all need help sometimes and seeking assistance when needed is actually a sign of strength.

“We must also advocate for ourselves when we feel the treatment we are receiving is not adequate or meeting our needs,” Cargill explained. “We are worthy of quality care and in partnership with our medical providers, there is hope to overcome the challenges of postpartum depression.”

Before you go, check out the apps we swear by for our mental health:

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