Commentary calls for better diagnosis and treatment of perinatal depression in Latinas and African American women

WASHINGTON, DC (April 10, 2018) — In a new commentary in the journal Women’s Health Issues, authors call for more funding to improve diagnosis and treatment of perinatal depression in Latinas and African American women. “Increasing Diagnosis and Treatment of Perinatal Depression in Latinas and African American Women: Addressing Stigma Is Not Enough” notes that rates of diagnosis and treatment for depression during pregnancy and after childbirth are low in Latinas and African American women. 

Women’s Health Issues is the official journal of the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health, which is based in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) at the George Washington University.

Sandraluz Lara-Cinisomo, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and co-authors Crystal T. Clark and Jayme Wood explain that stigma around mental health can make it harder to diagnose and treat Latinas and African American women, but addressing this barrier alone is insufficient. They recommend that providers be prepared to ask about somatic symptoms (such as head and stomach pain) as well as mood symptoms, because disclosing somatic issues may be more culturally acceptable. Clinicians who have frequent contact and trusting relationships with patients, such as nurse practitioners, may be well positioned to educate women about perinatal depression, the authors advise, and these clinicians should provide accurate information about affordable and culturally appropriate treatment options for pregnant and postpartum women who screen positive for depression.

To improve diagnosis and treatment of perinatal depression in Latinas and African American women, the authors urge policymakers to direct funds toward educating and training providers; addressing shortages of providers in underserved areas; and developing and evaluating culturally and linguistically appropriate resources. Other policies can also influence women’s willingness to disclose symptoms: Lara-Cinisomo told the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s News Bureau that some recent policy steps – such as a new Illinois law that makes untreated postpartum depression a mitigating factor if it’s found to be related to a woman’s involvement with a life-threatening event involving her child – are welcome, but that some states make it legally risky for women to report perinatal depression symptoms.

“Investing in pregnant and parenting women’s mental health can help women and their families,” said Women’s Health Issues Editor-in-Chief Amita Vyas, who directs the maternal and child health program at the Milken Institute SPH Department of Prevention and Community Health. “This commentary makes important recommendations about specific areas where additional funding can help reduce disparities in diagnosis and treatment of perinatal depression, which can improve outcomes for Latinas and African American women.”

Increasing Diagnosis and Treatment of Perinatal Depression in Latinas and African American Women: Addressing Stigma Is Not Enough” has been published online as an article in press and will appear in the May/June issue of Women’s Health Issues.