May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Let’s Talk About Maternal Mental Health.

By Alisha Saxena and Isha Weerasinghe

While May is Mental Health Awareness Month, May 5-11 was also Maternal Mental Health Appreciation Week. The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate of any high-income country. Using data from Maternal Mortality Review Committees from 2017-2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that four out of five pregnancy-related deaths were preventable, with mental health conditions being the most frequent underlying cause. We must continue the conversation on maternal health and maternal mental health and advocate for investments to support women and pregnant people across the country.

According to 2022 data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 59.3 million adults 18 or older reported experiencing “any mental illness” (AMI). Of those experiencing AMI, Asian (36.1 percent), Black (37.9 percent), and Hispanic (39.6 percent) adults were less likely to have received any significant form of mental health treatment. Seventy-five percent of pregnant people impacted by mental health conditions do not receive treatment. Pregnant people of color experience higher rates of AMI due not only to lack of treatment but also racial discrimination in health care and income inequality. We must uplift their lived experiences, improve their access to care, promote culturally sensitive programs, and invest in maternal mental health supports and services to better address the well-being of pregnant people of color, and pregnant people overall in the United States.

Maternal mental health conversations often lack consideration for racial equity. Because of that, we are highlighting CLASP resources with racial equity perspectives to educate the public on racial disparities in maternal mental health, and to advocate for the inclusion of pregnant people of color in all policy considerations related to maternal health.

Although the conversation around maternal mental health is thankfully expanding and garnering attention, pregnant people, particularly those marginalized by disability, race, ethnicity, gender identity, or sexual orientation, need access to mental health resources that work best for them. Without adequately funding and supporting maternal mental health-related research; bolstering and expanding care infrastructures that support pregnant people through the perinatal period; and community-based organizations implementing key culturally responsive services, we aren’t going to see maternal mental health rates go down among marginalized populations.