In last week’s post, I ended with a promise to feature more information and more first first person accounts of women and men who have experienced perinatal mood and anxiety disorders whose voices are underrepresented. With that goal in mind, I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to interview Divya B. Kumar, ScM, CPD, CLC; a co-founder of the Perinatal Mental Health Alliance for Women of Color (PMHA-WOC).
Divya, along with Jabina G. Coleman, LSW, MSW, IBCLC., and Desiree Israel LGSW, founded the Perinatal Mental Health Alliance for Women of Color in February of 2017. As stated on their website, the goal was to “create an organization for women of color run by women of color to provide support, advocacy, information, and resources around perinatal mental health.”
I thought it would be useful to learn more about this incredible organization, so I reached out with some questions about their objectives, as well as for their take on some of the issues facing women of color experiencing PMADS. I’ve chosen to present Divya’s responses in a Q&A format. My reason for that was to provide a platform for her words and message, without my own edits or interpretations taking up that space.
My Q&A with Divya is below
Emma) Why did you start the Perinatal Mental Health Alliance for Women of Color (PMHA-WOC) and what are you hoping to accomplish/what are aims and objectives?
Divya) We created PMHA-WOC because we saw a lack of perinatal mental health services & resources FOR women of color and RUN BY women of color. Of course, WOC represent a huge, broad, diverse group with many identities within that group– we represent different ethnicities, nationalities, class/education backgrounds, sexual orientations, etc. That said, we saw that there were no agencies in the maternal/perinatal mental health world whose sole purpose focused on WOC and on supporting both families and professionals of color around PMADs, and we wanted to create something that centered the experience of WOC. By creating PMHA-WOC, we hope to:
- Increase awareness/decrease stigma around PMADs among women of color and families of color
- Raise awareness within our professional community of how PMADs affect WOC (and also raise awareness around how oppression and racism affect WOC and their mental health in general)
- Help mental health clinicians of color access training around treating PMADs… there are relatively few mental health clinicians of color, and we hope to encourage these clinicians to get specialized training in perinatal mental health and help them get that training through scholarships and other connections with resources, for example
- Create a resource list/database of clinicians of color who have experience and expertise in PMADs so that WOC seeking these services and resources can more easily access them
Emma) What is your relationship with Postpartum Support International (PSI)?
Divya) We are now a program within PSI. Our mission and vision aligns with PSI’s commitment to making sure that all families have access to the information, support, and care they need around PMADs. We hope to have a PSI coordinator of color in every state in order to increase visibility and representation of WOC and diversify PSI from within the organization in order to better connect with and reach different communities across the country. We know that this process will take time, but the idea here is that diversifying from within will eventually lead to increasing access to support services for families of color. We need more faces and voices to represent the vast range of experiences that WOC have in this country, and our hope is that when WOC look at PSI and see PMHA-WOC as a part of PSI, they will say, “OK, this service is for me, and these people represent my experience in some way”.
Emma)Can you speak to the ways in which your organization integrates a framework and mindset informed by intersectionality?
Divya) We are aware of the huge range of diversity within the group of folks who identify as WOC– there’s a huge range of identities and life experiences within that group. We are by no means claiming that we are all the same but are rather connecting on ONE piece out of many pieces of our identities. We operate with cultural humility and know that we cannot know everything about each other, and we are committed to being open, listening, learning, and reflecting. We know that structures of oppression affect all of us in different ways, depending on our identities and life experiences. There’s no way we could do this work without incorporating an anti-oppression framework, for sure.
Emma) There are lots of systemic issues which impact access to quality and culturally appropriate health care and mental health care for WOC, any thoughts on specific issues/challenges when it comes to perinatal mental health care?
Divya) There are huge disparities in perinatal *health* outcomes (such as infant mortality and premature delivery), and those negative health outcomes put women at higher risk for perinatal emotional complications. Basically, every systemic issue (racism, poverty, etc) trickles down and impacts perinatal mental health care. [For example,] basic things like red-lining in our cities affects who lives where and what services they can access. Also, things like Medicaid’s reimbursement rate, what services are covered by Medicaid, and what providers accept Medicaid [impacts who receives care.] [In addition, there are factors such as] a a lack of culturally/linguistically appropriate services, and a lack of transportation/childcare [impacts access to care.]
Emma) Building on that, can you speak to some additional reasons why WOC are more likely to experience PMADS?
Divya) It’s hard to tease out exactly what is perinatal and what is an overall reaction to stress, poverty, racism, [and other] difficult life circumstances (like being alone/socially isolated in a new country, not speaking the same language as everyone else). There’s also a lot of cultural stigma around PMADs in various communities of color, and research tell us that a big piece of the problem in communities of color is that women will often minimize/deny their symptoms out of shame, fear, [and] stigma.
Emma) Any thoughts on how we (mental health providers and advocates) can improve access to care for WOC experience PMADS?
Divya) I think a lot of this work takes time and has to come from many directions. I think it’s a good idea to build relationships with communities of color in your area. Communities of color are so diverse, and I think the best place to start is for professionals to look around and see whom their patients are and who isn’t being served. [In addition,] we definitely need more clinicians of color, more clinicians who speak different languages, and more clinicians who take Medicaid and public insurance.
So there you have it folks. To stay informed about PMHA-WOC you can subscribe to their mailing list here. If you’d like to consider supporting them financially you can donate to funds to their Rising Togther Scholarship fund here.