Maternal Mental Health Isn’t Created Equal

Do you ever wonder: “How likely am I to have postpartum depression?”

Well, one in seven new mothers suffer from postpartum depression (based on U.S. statistics). Additionally, between 50 to 85% of new mothers experience what is known as the “baby blues” after giving birth––and even if the low mood they experience isn’t severe enough to warrant a PPD diagnosis, it is still a very real, scary, and challenging experience to go through.

If you’ve been following us for any amount of time, you know that we believe healthy pregnancies and postpartum journeys are built on a strong foundation of good food, challenging exercise, mental wellness, and empowering knowledge. But we also know that beneath all of these things we can control, there’s another foundation––and it’s one that we can’t control.

This impenetrable layer can’t be influenced through choices like eating your greens and starting mediation. And although you can’t change it, this layer––comprised of things such as your race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and more––largely informs your propensity to suffer from a mental health condition.

This isn’t to say that making healthy choices doesn’t affect your mental wellness. Lifestyle behaviors, practicing resiliency, and communicative relationships all play important and impactful roles in protecting you against maternal mental illnesses, and that’s why we’re passionate about empowering you with the guidance on your health and wellbeing every single day.

But we also know it’s so important to educate on the challenges that face expecting and new mothers that can be modified with a behavior change. All women are susceptible to prenatal and postpartum depression and anxiety, but certain factors can put you at a higher risk. This isn’t to cause fear: it’s to empower you to understand your personal risk factors, and the risk factors of those around you, so we can better support and advocate for each other in motherhood. 

Breaking the stigma and changing the conversation starts with every single one of us. Let’s start here.

Higher Risk Factors for Maternal Mental Illness

Race

Women of color are more likely to suffer from postpartum depression, but less likely to receive treatment. Read that one more time. One study even found that white women were twice as likely to receive treatment––so why the disparity?

One core factor is suggested to be the inaccuracy of diagnostic tools. These tools have been developed from research involving primarily white participants, rendering certain diagnostic criteria less accurate and relevant for women of color.

These missing diagnosis stem from cultural factors, too. Findings suggest that Black and Latina mothers are less likely to initiate care after birth. The terminology used to talk about mental illness isn’t universal, and black individuals are less likely to use terms like “depression”; instead, some people may say they just aren’t feeling like themselves. Additionally, racial discrimination and bias forces women who are struggling to hide their mental illness, out of fear that they may lose their babies. In turn, this fear only exacerbates their struggle.

Socioeconomic status

Mothers of low socioeconomic status are more likely to suffer from postpartum depression than others. They also have higher rates of mental illness overall. Left untreated, these existing mental health challenges often balloon with the strains and hormonal changes experienced during pregnancy.

Financial deprivation and instability makes accessing resources that support a healthy pregnancy incredibly difficult. Mothers are more likely to have poor nutrition due to their lack of financial resources and likelihood of living in food deserts: areas with limited access to affordable and nutritious food.

It’s also important to consider that previous depression is the best predictor of future depression. Because people of low socioeconomic status are more likely to struggle with depression to begin with, it’s incredibly important that physicians work with future mothers before they get pregnant. Identifying these issues at the onset can make a world of difference.

Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity

Much like socioeconomic status, sexual orientation and gender identity play a major role in maternal mental illness, which is heavily influenced by the fact that LGBTQI+ folks have a heightened risk of developing mental illness. The prevalence of mental illness in this community is impossible to pin down in simple terms––and it can be attributed to a myriad of factors such as homophobia, discrimination, and isolation.

LQBTQI+ parents are more likely to deal with a lack of support, especially from their families, with whom they may have a strained relationship. Differing paths to parenthood also bring challenges. The difficulty and stress of IVF, surrogacy, and adoption can take a toll on mental health, and left untreated, can grow into larger problems.

A 2015 study published in The Archives of Women’s Mental Health made an important distinction: sexual minority (LGBTQI+) women are not a homogeneous group, and they suffer from maternal mental illness at different rates. Although people who identify as LGBTQI+ are at a higher risk of postpartum depression as a whole, bisexual women experience it at higher rates. This is thought to be because of their “invisibility” as a group, and the social stigma surrounding bisexual women who have children with men.

It’s also important to note that nonbiological parents struggle, too. Not carrying a child doesn’t make it any less yours, and it doesn’t mean you aren’t at risk of postpartum depression. No matter who you are: if you are struggling, you deserve help.

Personal and family history

Postpartum depression occurs at much higher rates in women with a history of a mood disorder––and although this area lacks comprehensive research, estimates are as high as 30-60% increase in risk.

Just because you haven’t struggled with your own mental health in the past doesn’t mean that you can’t be affected, especially if you have a family history of postpartum depression. One study showed that in women who were mentally well during their pregnancy, 53.3% of those with a family history of postpartum depression developed the condition, compared with just 11.8% in those who did not. It’s thought women with a family history of maternal mental illness have an underlying biological vulnerability that puts them at a high risk when they undergo major hormonal change––just like those of pregnancy and postpartum.


Even if you don’t fall into any of these categories, it’s still incredibly important to educate yourself on the risk factors and warning signs of maternal mental illnesses that may affect you or other mothers in your communities. It’s so important to remember that none of these influencing factors are mutually exclusive, nor is this a comprehensive list.

But the more we know, the more power we have to take charge of our health and champion the health of others. Because one mother’s health is every mother’s health. So let’s support each other and work towards healthier motherhoods together.


We want to hear from you. Share your experience in the comments below, and head over to our Instagram to keep the conversation going.

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