Understanding how trauma impacts maternal health outcomes for Black mothers

Trauma and maternal health outcomes

Black mothers report higher rates of anxiety and depression, compared to non-Hispanic white mothers — and yet, oftentimes, they receive the least amount of support.

“I just saw the big mental health disparities in the community, particularly for communities of color, where there were high rates of trauma exposure, but weren’t a lot of resources or available treatment,” said Dr. Briana Woods-Jaeger, an associate professor at Emory University. “It is something that has motivated my whole career.” 

Working to make a change, Dr. Woods-Jaeger was part of a study led by Dr. Abigail Powers Lott that surveyed more than 600 Black pregnant women who were receiving services at Atlanta’s Grady Hospital and the results were staggering.

“98% had trauma exposure, a very high rate of trauma exposure over their life course and only 6% had actually accessed PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) treatment,” said Dr. Woods-Jaeger. “That really clued us into that there is in an unmet mental health need here and what can we be doing, in metro Atlanta particularly, to address it.”

To help advance these efforts, UnitedHealthcare donated $75,000 to Emory University to help support engagement and community partnerships that support providing a mindfulness-based prenatal intervention based on Dialectical Behavior Therapy called “iBREATHE”.

“We want to make mental health treatment as accessible as possible, but we also recognize there will always be barriers to accessing treatment,” Dr. Woods-Jaeger said. “How can we work with community partners so there are resources throughout the community and even online that black pregnant women can access on their own, at their own pace when they’re ready, that will really support their mental health.

Dr. Woods-Jaeger developed the Moms-to-be THRIVE Project (Together promoting Health and Resilience through Interventions, Voice & Equity) with the goal to partner with community members in Atlanta and develop pathways to support Black maternal mental health.

As part of this effort, Dr. Woods-Jaeger has been conducting focus groups to hear directly from Black pregnant women in order to learn about their experiences and what priorities to focus on. That data is then shared with the THRIVE Community Action Board — a group that includes health care providers, Black pregnant women and staff from Sheltering Arms, who is a childcare provider based in Atlanta delivering comprehensive family support services.

“We are in this for the long term. We really want to make sure this is work is sustained,” said Dr. Woods-Jaeger. “Whatever we have developed collaboratively is going to continue to have positive effects that we find out from our research. Really building capacity is success to me.”

For more information about partners involved in the project, visit their websites:
Grady Health
Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies
Promise All Atlanta Children THRIVE
Sheltering Arms
The THRIVE Research Lab


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