As many as 20% of women experience depression and anxiety during or after pregnancy, experts said
Mothers in low-income communities are at higher risk for depression and anxiety
Integrating mental health care into women's health care is one way to reach them
They are tragedies impossible to comprehend. Over the past three months, three New York City mothers have allegedly tossed their babies out windows, and they’ve fallen to their deaths.
In the most recent case, Tenisha Fearon, 27, reportedly screamed “We’re all going to die” in front of her other children before allegedly throwing her 6-month-old daughter out the window of her sixth-floor apartment.
Fearon was charged with murder in the death; she’s in police custody and was ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, according to CNN affiliate WABC. En route to her first court appearance, CNN affiliate WCBS reported, she made a comment to her godmother, Louella Hatch.
“She said, ‘I tried to tell you Miss Louella,’ but I don’t understand,” Hatch said.
The godmother said she had seen the family one day before the deadly incident and everything seemed OK. She now believes her godchild, whom she said usually appeared happy and confident, was suffering from postpartum depression but never spoke up.
“My belief is she was sick and just didn’t tell anybody,” Hatch said. “This is a disease and nobody detects it.”
We don’t know what Fearon might be experiencing. What we do know is that as many as 20% of women – one in five – will suffer from some form of depression, mood or anxiety disorder during or after pregnancy, according to experts I spoke with who work with women.
The spectrum of illnesses goes beyond depression to include anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and in the rarest and most serious cases, postpartum psychosis. Extreme cases of that illness tend to garner national media attention, although postpartum psychosis affects a very small number of moms – just one or two of every 1,000 new mothers.
Women in low-income communities are more at risk for postpartum depression or any other form of pregnancy-related mental illness during or after pregnancy, according to the research.
Mothers who received Medicaid benefits for their delivery were more likely to report postpartum depressive symptoms, according to a 2008 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A 2010 study by the University of Rochester Medical Center and published in the journal Pediatrics found that more than 50% of low-income mothers living in urban areas met the criteria for a diagnosis of depression at some point between two weeks and 14 weeks after delivery.
And yet, for a host of reasons including access, financial barriers, stigma and cultural differences, these mothers are often not getting the treatment they need.
The stigma of mental illness
Lynne McIntyre, manager of the maternal health program at Mary’s Center for Maternal and Child Care in Washington, D.C., can cite plenty of examples of how the stigma of a mood or anxiety disorder during or after pregnancy keeps women from seeking treatment. Mary’s Center provides care regardless of a patient’s ability to pay, and most of the women who use its services have low incomes and come from Latino, African American and East African communities.