Part 1/2: Addressing the hidden mental health hurdles faced by BIPOC mothers
Part 2 coming soon – Addressing the hidden mental health hurdles faced by mothers in a socioeconomically disadvantaged situation.
What the pandemic has clearly shown to us in North America is two-fold. One, inequality is clear, with the most vulnerable among us being the most disadvantaged. Two, the secondary mental health pandemic has serious consequences.
In this two-part article, we are going to touch on how the pandemic has affected certain groups of mothers – BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) mothers, essential workers, and front-line healthcare workers.
But first, let’s refresh ourselves on why it is important to take maternal mental health seriously.
The pandemic has knocked a lot of people across all walks of life off their feet, mentally, emotionally, and for some of us, physically. It is an especially tough time for pregnant women and moms.
In our research we have found that there is typically no other time in a person’s life where the risk is highest for anxiety or depression than during pregnancy. Our research has also shown that those who had experienced depression or anxiety at some point prior to pregnancy had a higher likelihood of it occurring again while pregnant.
The MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health (headed by Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School), states, ‘We have many studies which indicate that exposure to maternal depression during pregnancy and the postpartum period may adversely affect a child’s development.’
Thankfully there is hope. Research has shown that parents can reduce the risks related to prenatal anxiety and depression in children by cuddling and parenting in a warm, responsive way.
Read more on that here: Prenatal Anxiety and Depression Can Affect Your Child but There is Hope
A brief look at the added mental health load on BIPOC mothers
Recently, Dr. Jenny Wang, founder of Asians for Mental Health wrote about how as mothers of colour, we cannot ignore children that die at the hands of police. She also wrote this while fully acknowledging the privilege that comes with raising her East Asian son, and how her ‘heart breaks for all Black, Brown and Indigenous mothers,’ the fear they feel whenever their child is out of sight.
Dr. Wang also goes on to talk about a sub-category of the mental health pandemic that has arisen from COVID-19 – the racism virus.
While racism has occurred long before pandemic times, it has increased with COVID-19. Many people of visible Asian descent have experienced a higher frequency of racism, adding fear and stress to BIPOC mothers.
This follows the year of rising awareness in the Black Lives Matter movement – a tipping point that North America seemed to reach in 2020. This has not occurred at just the lower socioeconomic level, but also at the top in academia. A CBC article revealed that an Edmonton associate law professor received racist harassment for speaking out on Alberta’s COVID-19 response.
Racism is traumatic and harassment, no matter what age it occurs to a person. Mothers carry deep-seated concern over their children, whether their babies are still young or have flown the nest. Adrian Jacques Ambrose M.D., MPH. FAPA and Brad Eardley, LMFT go on to sum up how ‘BIPOC children often face additional mental health difficulties during COVID,’ with many BIPOC children at a disadvantage for experiencing worse mental health and greater struggles for support.
Parents have a responsibility to protect children AND talk about racism
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, ‘children can internalize racial bias,’ as early as ages 2-4. All parents have a responsibility to teach help children develop resilience AND teach children to not engage in racism at an early age. It can be especially difficult during times when there is societal upheaval and a pandemic. The weight of this responsibility can rest heavily on a pregnant or new mother. In light of this, moms at all stages need to be supported. We need to do this so that moms have the strength to raise a generation that is kinder, for a safer for inclusive world for every individual.
Television anchor Siemny Kim leaves us with this sobering reflection, “Deep down, I knew that (being required to change her name to be hired) is just as Anti-Asian as the kids on the playground who refuse to learn or make fun of your name. The only difference is those same kids have grown up and can make powerful decisions about your future—who works and who doesn’t.”
Stay tuned for part 2 of this article, where we will be addressing the hidden mental health hurdles faced by mothers in a socioeconomically disadvantaged situation and touching briefly on nurse burnout.
Further Reading – Resources:
Anti-Racist Resource Guide, by Victoria Alexander.
10 Children’s Books About Racism and Activism to Help Parents Educate Their Kids – Talking to kids about racial justice and police brutality isn’t easy. Do it anyway. – Huffpost.
If you are struggling with your mental health, help is available. Start here with our mental health resources:
 MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health, ‘Measuring the Impact of Maternal Anxiety on Children’s Social-Emotional Development,’2020, MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health – Reproductive Psychiatry Resource & Information Center, https://womensmentalhealth.org/posts/maternal-perinatal-anxiety/
 CBC.ca, ‘Academic targeted by racist messages following criticism of Alberta’s pandemic response,’ 2020, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/academic-targeted-by-racist-messages-following-criticism-of-alberta-s-pandemic-response-1.5820906
 Adrian Jacques Ambrose M.D., MPH, FAPA, ‘BIPOC Children’s Mental Health Challenges During COVID-19,’ 2021, https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/psych-eyes/202104/bipoc-children-s-mental-health-challenges-during-covid-19
 Ashaunta Anderson, MD, MPH, MSHS, FAAP & Jacqueline Douge, MD, MPH, FAAP, ‘Talking to Children About Racial Bias,’ 2019, HealthyChildren.org, https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/emotional-wellness/Building-Resilience/Pages/Talking-to-Children-About-Racial-Bias.aspx
 Sam Louie MA, LMHC, S-PSB, ‘The Name Change of Asian Immigrants,’ 2021, Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/minority-report/202103/the-name-change-asian-immigrants