Mental Health Care, Maternal Health, and Addressing Disparities


Mental Health Care, Maternal Health, and Addressing Disparities

April 13, 2023

In March, 20/20 Mom, now the Policy Center for Maternal Mental Health, hosted its annual Maternal Mental Health FORUM: Sowing the Seeds, Reaping Rewards. This year’s FORUM focused on investing in systems change, and featured speakers and panelists who are experts in maternal mental health and policy. It is important to understand maternal mental health as a key component of maternal health; after all, mental health is health.

The United States has the worst maternal and infant outcomes of any developed nation, and the maternal mortality rate had reached a crisis level in the country, even before the sharp rise seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. Black women experience rates of pregnancy-related mortality three times higher than white women. The FORUM underscored how systemic racism and sexism have created a society in which women’s lives, particularly those of women of color, are undervalued. One session, focused on maternal mental health disparities in the American Indian/Alaskan Native community, bringing to light the intersection between racism and health for indigenous peoples. Specifically, it discussed how policies that outlawed cultural practices and beliefs for Indigenous communities harmed those communities’ mental health. 

These health disparities also exist because people of color face structural barriers to quality health care, including mental health care. Mental health challenges are common during pregnancy and the postpartum period, and must be given the same consideration as physical postpartum health challenges. Ensuring Medicaid/CHIP enrollees are able to keep their insurance coverage for 12 months after giving birth can help to address one of these barriers for those experiencing poverty. 

Health care during the postpartum period is not only critical to maternal health, but to sexual and reproductive health and well-being overall. All people, regardless of who they are, where they live, or their income, deserve access to this kind of care. Pregnant people who are working to make ends meet can receive health care coverage under Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) during pregnancy, even if they would not otherwise qualify. However, in many states, this coverage ends just 60 days postpartum. Because pregnancy related deaths can occur up to one year postpartum, many states have amended their Medicaid or CHIP policies to expand coverage to one year postpartum. You can learn more about postpartum coverage expansion in our factsheet