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The Maternal Mental Health Crisis

May 29, 2024

A new report from the Policy Center for Maternal Mental Health studied how each state in the U.S. is responding to the needs of new and expecting mothers. The results are, put bluntly, dismal – as the report notes, the U.S. is “failing mothers,” only scoring a national grade of D+, up from a D in 2023. This snapshot of how terribly the U.S. is responding to mothers’ mental health isn’t surprising. Rather, it’s reflective of what we already know to be true: from a decidedly unjust health care system to a failing social safety net, most people’s needs are not being met.

Mental health support during and after pregnancy is critical, with around 20% of pregnant or postpartum people estimated to experience a condition like depression, anxiety, or suicidal ideation. And of those that compose the 20%, Zane McNeill notes that these conditions “disproportionately affect Black, Indigenous, and low-income communities.” Why? The stress of racism can affect health throughout generations, and the racism in the healthcare system makes it difficult for people to connect with quality support. Likewise, poverty makes people sick, just as it makes it difficult to access healthcare.

The consequences of the U.S. failure to support pregnant or postpartum people are devastating. To cite a few examples, an issue brief from the Policy Center for Maternal Mental Health details that maternal suicide is a leading cause of maternal death. Femi Disu-Oakley reminds us that “Black parents are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than their white counterparts.”

We at the Woodhull Freedom Foundation join Oakley in affirming that we need swift, immediate action for birth justice. We need a robust, quality, and accessible system of support for pregnant and postpartum people that addresses their mental health needs.

Photo of a Person's Torso

Photo of a person's torso sitting down. The person is wearing a denim jacket and has their hands folded over their lap. There is another person if the front of the image with their hands clasped, but they are blurry. (Photo by Priscilla Du Preez)

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