Almost 80% of all women suffer from postpartum depression at least once. That’s significantly more than half. We’re talking millions and millions of women suffering from a severe form of the ‘baby blues’ at any given moment. 13.4% of those women identify as black or African American.
So what is postpartum depression, or PPD ? American Progress defined PPD as “moderate to severe depression that can occur in a woman immediately following the delivery of a child or up to a year after giving birth.” PPD is often mistaken for the baby blues which lasts up to two weeks after the baby is born. Baby blues symptoms include mood swings, anxiety, sadness, feeling overwhelmed, crying, trouble sleeping and reduced concentration.
PPD symptoms, on the other hand, include severe mood swings and excessive crying. Women suffering from PPD have a difficult time bonding with their baby and tend to withdraw from their family and friends. They no longer find joy in the things they used to face fits or intense irritability or anger. They also have feelings intense hopelessness and restless. Most dangerously, they suffer from both suicidal and homicidal ideation that includes harming the baby. Untreated PPD can last for months or even years.
Although as stated, most women go on to develop PPD, it’s been reported over and over again that black women end up worse off that their non-black counterparts (with a few exceptions). There are so many different factors that have caused this to be true. One reason is that in the Black community many of us have been told not to “claim” mental illness and “give it up to God.” There’s this idea that if you simply don’t believe, or if you deny its existence, then mental illness cannot reach you. If you have enough faith God will heal you.
There’s also the stigma around asking for help. Any type of help. Black women are supposed to be strong and independent right ? If this is a core belief, you’ll be less likely to reach out for help and risk being perceived as weak. And therapists, those are only for crazy people, and “I ain’t crazy !” Check out LaShonta’s experience here (BWHI).
There’s the very real fear of Children Services becoming involved if you were to admit that you’re struggling in this way too. In many reports and official studies done around the nation we keep finding that Black mothers are deemed unfit by social service workers at a much higher rate than white mothers when all other factors are equal. Exhibiting the symptoms of PPD make the likelihood of said mother being deemed unfit even higher.
Another factor is the lack of quality healthcare available for black mothers. The screening tools used by healthcare professionals to determine whether or not you have PPD was modeled after white research participants. Research shows that just like with most other aspects of life, black women mask, exhibit and talk about mental illness in different ways. For example, Black women, due the stigma, may find themselves saying “I haven’t been feeling like myself” instead “I’ve been feeling depressed”. Or she may say that she’s been irritated more often lately. Or that she doesn’t know why she keeps getting headaches or can’t eat. All of these nuances matter. They more than matter.
Representation also matters. People typically feel most comfortable sharing intimate information with people that look like them or are similar to them in as many ways possible. It helps them feel more relatable and less judged. On average only about 5% of the nations psychologists is Black. Just 5%. That creates an enormous hurdle for Black women seeking help with PPD.
So reader, have you or has someone close to you ever suffered from Postpartum Depression ? What was your experience ? We’d love to hear from you !