Postpartum depression impacts 1 in 8 women across the United States. PPD, also known as perinatal depression is a mood disorder that can occur after giving birth. Many women experience debilitating symptoms like anxiety, fear, and hopelessness after childbirth. Sometimes, PPD can impact the way a mother bonds with her child. The condition can lead to sleep and feeding issues if left untreated. Studies have shown that newborns who struggle to form a secure bond with their mother are more likely to develop lower cognitive abilities and are at an increased risk of developing behavioral issues, NPR noted.
For Black women, seeking care and treatment can be a difficult task due to socio-economic hurdles. Racial bias in the health care system can lead to an inadequate treatment plan. Lack of health care and therapy costs also play a critical part in the mental health care gap. According to Forbes, the average cost of psychotherapy in the U.S. ranges from $100 to $200 per session, many of which aren’t covered under health insurance. In 2020, 10.4% of Black adults in the U.S. had no form of health insurance, NAMI noted.
So, what does someone battling PPD do under these difficult circumstances?
That’s where She Matters comes into save the day. She Matters is a digital health platform specifically designed to support Black mothers struggling with postpartum depression. The company works with a close-knit community of certified therapists that deliver “culturally relevant” treatment plans for women of color. The organization also helps to train healthcare staff on the “nuances and challenges” Black women often face when battling through mental health issues like PPD.
“Therapists pay a fee to be on the app and be connected to Black women who want therapy. But the thing that’s different with our app and others is that these therapists are culturally competent and understand the very tumultuous relationship that Black women have had in the healthcare system,” the company’s co-founder Jade Kearney told TechCrunch in February. Users registered with the site can choose from over 180 trained therapists. Since opening the app in January, nearly 7000 women have signed up to connect with qualified health care professionals on the app, and the community is steadily growing.
The issue of PPD in Black mothers can also be attributed to the maternal health care crisis. Black women are 4x more likely to die during childbirth and 80% more likely to return to the emergency room during their postpartum period, according to She Matters’ website. To help close the maternal health care gap, the company created The Pink Book, an interactive map that lists the safest hospitals across 14 states with the largest African-American populations in the United States. The incredible resource shows women where they are likely to have the best outcomes for their maternal care.
The issue hits close to home for Kearney, who battled through PPD as she was obtaining her master’s at NYU.
“While I was trying to finish my second master’s degree, I had to figure out how to navigate that space alone because between cultural stigma and medical neglect for Black women in the postpartum period, there was really no outlet for me.”
So, Kearney decided to be the change she wanted to see in the world. The mental health advocate built the company while attending NYU’s Digital Media Design program. She was tasked with building an app for a school assignment, and the idea instantly manifested with warp speed, of course, with a few hurdles. Kearney had no prior entrepreneurial experience, so she had to learn how to run the business and raise capital.
“When I [started saying] that I was a tech founder, I really started to encounter racism. It’s not that I haven’t experienced racism and sexism, but once I decided that this was my title, I started experiencing all these microaggressions,” she said.
Social Stigmas Of Mental Health
For Black adults, receiving care for mental health issues can come with negative stigmas. Research shows that many Black adults associate mental health issues with shame and weakness. Some Black men and women fear that they will be discriminated against if they seek medical and professional help for depression. It’s a valid concern, given that the medical and justice system has failed Black community members in the past. Look no further than Brianna Grier, a 28-year-old woman who recently died while in police custody as she was having a schizophrenic episode. Black mothers are also at a higher risk of having their children taken away by child welfare if they are deemed medically unfit.
Luckily, She Matters is doing the work to empower women to prioritize and seek help for mental health care issues and Kearney is on a mission to expand the company’s services. After joining the Techstars start-up program, Kearney was able to raise $300,000 in angel investment capital to help Black Mamas in need. “I’ve cried more behind closed doors in the last 12 weeks than I have in my entire life, but I refuse to give up because Black women are suffering and the problem is fixable,” she said before adding, “It’s about community and communication, and it’s about making as much noise as possible in the healthcare industry so they know we will not stop until change in maternal morbidity and patient outcomes drastically improve.”
If you or a loved one is struggling with PPD, check out She Matters to connect with mental health care professionals and receive great resources on treatment plans.