Taking care of your mental health is just as important as your physical health

October 6, 2021

Many people experience emotional or mental health problems, like depression or stress. In fact, about 1 in 7 pregnant people experience postpartum depression, and 1 in 10 experience postpartum anxiety. Research shows that the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the mental health of pregnant people even more.

Each year in October during Mental Illness Awareness Week, providers—including social workers, therapists, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners—work to raise awareness about mental illnesses. This year’s theme is “Together for Mental Health.”

Mental health problems and health disparities

Health disparities are differences in the health of one group of people compared to the health of other groups of people. In the United States, some groups are more likely to experience health disparities than others, putting them at risk of health problems, including mental health problems. For example, according to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, Black adults in the U.S. are more likely than White adults to say they feel the symptoms of emotional distress, such as sadness, hopelessness and feeling like everything is an effort. However, only 1 in 3 Black adults who need mental health care get it.

Research shows:

  • Among adults with any mental illness, White people received more mental health services than other groups. The percentage of people receiving mental health services by group is:
    • 48%, White people
    • 31%, Black and Hispanic people
    • 22% Asian people
  • Rates of depression are lower in Black and Hispanic people than in White people. The reason for these lower rates may be that many Black and Hispanic people are not receiving mental health services, so less are being diagnosed. Unfortunately, depression in Black and Hispanic people is likely to be more persistent.
  • People who identify as two or more races are most likely to report any type of mental illness than any other ethnic group.
  • American Indian/Alaskan Native people report higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol dependence than any other ethnic group.

Many things cause health disparities. Some well-known reasons for heath disparities are the social drivers of health. Social drivers of health are conditions in which you’re born and grow, work, live and age that affect your health throughout your life. This means that where you live, go to school or work can affect your health. Your health is affected by things other than your personal choices. Other things that affect your health are the quality of health care services in your community and if you have health insurance. Having access to quality health services, such as counseling or mental health therapy, could help you have a better mental health.

What is depression?

Because mental health problems can affect your pregnancy and the health of your baby, it’s important to understand the symptoms.

Depression is a medical condition in which strong feelings of sadness last for a long time and interfere with your daily life. It needs treatment to get better. Depression is the most common complication during pregnancy. If you’ve had depression before, it can come back (sometimes even worse) during pregnancy.

Depression during pregnancy increases your baby’s risk of being born too small or too early (preterm). It also increases the risk for learning, behavior and development problems later in your baby’s life. It can make it hard for you to get ready for and take care of yourself and your baby. It increases your risk for postpartum depression after pregnancy.

If you have signs or symptoms of depression, tell your provider.  These include:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless or overwhelmed
  • Crying a lot
  • Having no energy and feeling tired all the time
  • Eating or sleeping more or less than you usually do
  • Losing interest in things you usually like to do
  • Withdrawing from friends and family

How can I be treated for depression?

Your health care provider will screen you for depression at your prenatal checkups. They will likely ask you questions about your risks, feelings and mood. If the screening shows that you may be depressed or at risk for depression, your provider can help you get treatment. Treatment can include counseling and medicine called antidepressants.

If you’re at increased risk for depression, getting treatment with certain kinds of counseling can help prevent it.