It’s Complicated: Understanding the Complexities of COVID, Motherhood, and Mental Health in the Black Community

By Josephine McNeal

Josephine McNeal

Creating life and starting or expanding 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 after childbirth, approximately 20% of black women may experience mental health issues. Unfortunately, rates have worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic as black communities, including pregnant women, have been disproportionately affected by the disease.

The disparity resurfaced as a pressing issue for lawmakers and health care providers after several bills to address the crisis were introduced in Congress in 2021. Data also shows that black women continue to be face a higher risk of complications in childbirth than white women.

Regardless of factors such as lifestyle and socioeconomic status, black women have consistently had higher rates of medical complications, including hypertension and hemorrhage, poorer practitioner-patient defense and communication, and less support for postpartum mental and physical health care. These inequalities put Black mothers at higher risk for perinatal and postnatal mood and anxiety disorders (PTAPs) such as depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Black mothers’ risk of PMAD is estimated to be twice that of the general population.

Too often, insufficient access to quality, culturally appropriate 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 mother and baby.

While awareness of 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 in childbirth and black infants are twice as likely to die before their first birthday.

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Efforts like Black Maternal Health Awareness and organizations like Shades of Blue, founders of Black Maternal Mental Health Week, have helped raise awareness of these issues.

Additionally, health fairs in Black communities are essential for preventative 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 preventative care, especially for black women entering maternity, are valuable for overall health. Stay Well events are an innovative way to reach the Black community by creating space for health access and equity where the need is greatest.

“I made the decision to get myself and my children vaccinated and vaccinated to protect their health,” said Josette Brown, mother of two and panelist at the Stay Well Health Fair in Washington, DC.

Stay Well Health shows take place across the country, and the latest locations can be found here. Stay Well Health Fairs will be making stops in Florida and South Carolina in the coming months.

Stay well Tallahassee | July 23, 2022 | 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Florida A&M University
2101 Wahnish Road
Tallahassee, Florida 32310

Stay Well Myrtle Beach | August 13, 2022 | 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Smith Jones Recreation Center
1700 Smith Jones St. Conway, South Carolina 29527

The health screenings offered are just one way to keep black moms and their loved ones happy and healthy.

Josephine McNeal is a public relations specialist at CMRignite, a strategic communications agency specializing in the development of cause and behavior change marketing for leading nonprofit organizations and government agencies. CMRignite, a Fors Marsh Group contractor, is working directly on Health and Human Services’ COVID-19 public education campaign, We Can Do This, a national initiative to increase public trust and uptake of vaccines COVID-19 while strengthening basic prevention measures.

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