by Josephine McNeal
Creating life and starting or growing a family can bring pure joy to a woman’s life. It can also be a source of anxiety and hidden fear. In addition to the physical changes that occur during pregnancy and post-delivery, approximately 20% of Black women may experience mental health challenges. Unfortunately, the rates worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic as Black communities, including pregnant women, have been disproportionately impacted by the disease.
The disparity has resurfaced as a pressing issue for both lawmakers and health care providers after multiple bills to combat the crisis were introduced in Congress in 2021. Data also show that Black women continue to face a greater risk of childbirth complications than White women.
Regardless of factors such as lifestyle and socioeconomic status, Black women have historically had higher rates of medical complications, including hypertension and hemorrhaging, poorer practitioner-patient advocacy and communication, and less postpartum mental and physical health care support. These inequities put Black mothers at a higher risk for perinatal and postnatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) such as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is estimated that Black mothers’ risks for PMADs is twice that of the general population.
All too often, the insufficient access to quality and culturally sensitive physical and mental health care discourages Black mothers from seeking appropriate prenatal care. There is a direct correlation between higher infant mortality and lower levels of postnatal care for both the mother and baby.
While bringing more awareness to maternal mental health needs has led to various national efforts to improve maternal health care, Black mothers disproportionately face disparities in accessing and receiving appropriate health services. In the United States, Black women are three times more likely to die from childbirth, and Black infants are two times more likely to die before their first birthday.
Efforts such as Black Maternal Health Awareness and organizations such as Shades of Blue, founders of Black Maternal Mental Health Week, have helped further the awareness of these issues.
In addition, health fairs in Black communities are critical for preventive care, such as the Stay Well Health Fairs that are part of the We Can Do This Public Education Campaign. These events provide more accessible health screenings, in-person access to Black healthcare professionals, and COVID-19 testing, vaccinations, and boosters to Black communities, including moms.
Screenings and preventive care, especially for Black women entering motherhood, are valuable for overall health. The Stay Well events are an innovative way to reach the Black community by creating a space for health access and equity where the need is greatest.
“I made the decision to get myself and my children both vaccinated and boosted to protect their health,” said Josette Brown, a mom of two and panelist at the Stay Well Health Fair in Washington, D.C.
The Stay Well Health Fairs take place across the country, and the latest locations can be found at www.facebook.com/StayWellCommunityHealthFairs.
The health screenings offered are just one way to keep Black moms and their loved ones happy and healthy.