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Why Universal Maternal Screening For Depression Will Benefit Black Moms

This past week, New York’s First Lady, Chirlane McCray, introduced her new initiative to deal with mental health issues, a universal maternal screening for depression.  Under her new policy, all expecting moms will be screened for depression as a way to address the one in 10 women who suffer from depression during pregnancy–maternal depression– or after giving birth–postpartum depression. In New York City, that amounts to roughly 10,000 women per year.

While I applaud McCray for considering the mental health of women who suffer during pregnancy, I can’t help but wonder how beneficial it might really be. For one, are they just looking for signs that women are naturally weak? See, they wanna be out there competing with men, but they can’t even care for their babies. Second, by what criteria are you determining my mental health? Like, who makes up the test? Before you know it, I’m convinced that something is wrong with me, and I’m on the fast track to medication, which is only going to further benefit the pharmaceutical industry. No thanks. I’m fine.

But then again, I think about how I felt after having my first daughter.

The first nine months after my first daughter was born felt like a bad dream. I loved her, don’t get me wrong, but I didn’t feel happy in my new life. Most days I felt sad and overwhelmed. And when I went to places like Target or to the park and saw the happy faces of smiling moms I felt worse. Why couldn’t I feel that way too? Sometimes I even thought they were pretending, putting on a face for society, or that they simply couldn’t be dealing with my level of stress. Being a new mom, the change in everything, and how life no longer resembled anything that it used to, had me feeling like I was going to lose my mind.

I had heard of postpartum depression, but when you’re in the throes of motherhood who has time to thinkabout it? First of all, who is going to diagnose you and how are you going to pay for treatment? And what is treatment, anyway?

Drugs? A shrink? How do you fix motherhood?

My mom calls it ‘white women’s stuff.’ Try telling her about PMS or postpartum depression and watch her eyes gloss over mid-sentence. If she’s really inspired she’s going to give you her favorite line, “It is what it is, you gotta deal with it.” It wasn’t much different on my husband’s end. He’s from the Ivory Coast and would share stories of how some in his culture dealt with mental health, which they actually don’t believe in. To them, a person suffering from depression is just trying to check out of a hard life, so they show him something harder: “They take the person and whip the shit out of him and by the time they finish he usually shapes up.” Damn.

Most days I felt soft like cotton, and underserving of my Black superwoman card.

Thinking about it, I actually wish there was a universal screening for depression back then. I wish a doctor would have seriously inquired about the state of my mental health. Most questions center on the body. “Are you feeling any pain in your belly?” No one cares about the heart.

I spoke to my cousin about it the other day. She is on medication for depression and anxiety due to two back-to-back deaths: an aunt she was extremely close to, and her baby’s father. Medication and two monthly visits to a psychiatrist keep her heart from feeling like it’s going to explode. She says that she doesn’t plan to stay on the medication forever, but she’d much rather take it than deal with the pain that shoots through her chest whenever she starts feeling overwhelmed. This is how she handles her business.

“Talk to your primary doctor,” she says, sounding like a TV commercial. “We don’t know what help is available to us because we won’t talk about how we feel. And we won’t ask for help.”

She’s right. Universal screening is probably the only way a mom, particularly a Black mom, might get the help she needs. It took my cousin almost having a heart attack. Most of us aren’t that ‘lucky.’ As a mom herself, it’s something that First Lady Chirlane McClay probably knows all too well.

Nice to know someone in office has our back.

This article first appeared on Madamenoire 11/19/15

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