'Better off without me': Mom shares postpartum depression struggle as Texas works to improve access, treatment 

AUSTIN (KXAN) — She can only describe it as a breakdown. 

It was during the COVID-19 pandemic when the east Austin mom explained she “could no longer keep the balls all in the air. They all fell down.”

A book displayed at The Village Place in northeast Austin. (KXAN Photo/Arezow Doost)
A book displayed at The Village Place in northeast Austin. (KXAN Photo/Arezow Doost)

The 36-year-old was teaching not only students but her daughter at the time. She said her husband helped but nothing could prevent what happened next. 

“I suddenly had no desire to eat or live. I was just really tired and overwhelmed. Not having a lot of support made things even harder. No one to ask for a break, childcare,” she wrote to KXAN investigators anonymously. “I knew it wasn’t baby blues because the constant feeling of sadness, hopelessness, and extreme tiredness never went away. There was even some difficulty bonding with my baby and thoughts she would really be better off without me.”

She said she had dealt with depression before her pregnancy and was being treated but stopped medication because she feared it could harm the baby. 

The mother explained she knew something had to change and messaged the non-profit Black Mamas Village which provides a space for mothers looking for connection and support. Nakeenya Wilson was at church when she looked down at her phone and noticed the urgent message. 

“I will never forget that morning,” Wilson said. “She basically said, ‘I’m done. Like, I don’t want to do this anymore. This is too much. And I want to end my life.'”

The mom was immediately connected with a mental health professional as a team of volunteers from Black Mamas Village made sure her husband and daughter were taken care of during that time. 

Texas’ five-year plan 

“We have built such a safe and supportive community that she did not feel like she would be judged,” explained Wilson. “She believed that we would help her.”

The Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee found that mental health disorders are one of the leading causes of pregnancy-related deaths in Texas.

Nakeenya Wilson is the founder of Black Mamas Village and Co-owner of the Village Place. (KXAN Photo/Arezow Doost)
Nakeenya Wilson is the founder of Black Mamas Village and Co-owner of the Village Place. (KXAN Photo/Arezow Doost)

The Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) recently updated its five-year plan to combat postpartum depression and other maternal mental health conditions by 2025. The ​strategic plan was first published in September 2020. 

HHSC has been working with mental and behavioral health experts and women’s health providers on a number of goals including improving access to screening by expanding telehealth options, developing curriculum at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio focused on prescribing practices for maternal mental health targeting psychologists, counselors, social workers, and other professionals working with pregnant or postpartum women and increasing awareness among providers treating women at risk. 

Additional measures include establishing a referral network of community-based mental health providers and support services, raising public awareness and reducing the stigma related to maternal mental health conditions along with leveraging sources of funding to support existing community-based screening, referral and treatment. 

New community hub 

Wilson, who started Black Mamas Village on Facebook after suffering from postpartum depression, explained there’s a need for community support, specifically when it comes to Black mothers.

In October, the once virtual village opened its doors to a physical location nestled on just over an acre along Interstate 35 in northeast Austin. 

  • Kids room at Village Place
  • Desk at Village Place
  • The Village Place is located at 8401 North IH 35 in Austin and includes childcare, co-working spaces, library and a nap room for moms. (KXAN Photo/Arezow Doost)
  • Library at Village Place rotated

The Village Place is not just a place to connect but it will provide many other services including multipurpose rooms, co-working spaces and drop-in childcare. The community hub will soon also house a doula, midwife, therapist and psychiatrist to help with any mental health conditions including postpartum depression and anxiety.

“We are in a city that has had quite a bit of sprawl. And when you look at the increasing cost of living and the gentrification that has happened in the core of the city, you have families who are being pushed to the outskirts. And for young mothers or mothers in particular, it can be extremely isolating. And then you add on the layer of the identity of being a Black Austinite and it can just be really challenging,” said Wilson who is a co-owner of The Village Place. “They can come here and find their — their tribe, their people, their children can play with other children who look like them. They can co-work. We’re in the process of finalizing drop-in childcare.”

Wilson added that it’s a safe space to be able to be supported mentally, physically and emotionally. She’s working on getting grants to provide mental health services at low or no cost which she believes will impact access to care. 

“It is a holistic environment where you can go, and you know there will be childcare there — so your child is just right around the corner in the next room,” said Shayla Wilson, a licensed clinical social worker who will soon be a provider at the location. “You can also see somebody to get the help that you need, all in the same place.”

Statewide trends 

A first-of-its-kind interactive map by The Policy Center for Maternal Mental Health and George Washington University has been tracking maternal mental health risk and providers by county. 

Texas is among the top six states in what’s considered a dark zone — meaning moms are at a greater risk for suffering from maternal mental health disorders and there’s a greater need for providers.

“In Texas, in particular, we are seeing that the majority of counties don’t meet the threshold of having enough maternal mental health providers. We’re also seeing in Texas, that the risk factor is quite deep in numerous different counties,” Caitlin Murphy said.

Murphy, who is a research scientist at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University, co-authored the report.

“We’re seeing that 32 of Texas’s 254 counties do fall into that dark zone with the least number of maternal mental health providers and the highest risk. And I think a statistic that we pulled that was very compelling is that right now it looks like approximately 43% of all mothers giving birth in Texas do fall into one of those dark zones.”

The map also shows that risk factors contributing to maternal mental health disorders disproportionately impact rural areas and communities of color.

The women behind Black Mamas Village believe it’s why there’s a need for community hubs like theirs. They explained that their mission is to not only support and empower Black moms but all women during different phases of life.

Local resources

“I am quite certain that their support is why my almost 10-year-old has a happy and healthy mom,” said the mother who wanted to remain anonymous. “Without their help, I would not be here, I would not have been able to navigate such depression and care, and I’m so glad I am still around. Also having another mom that could relate to having depression, especially a mom of color made me feel so seen — less ashamed.”

She wanted to share her story so that mothers know they’re not alone. “You may think you don’t have a village, but you do,” she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in eight women will experience depression after a pregnancy. Maternal health experts explained that postpartum depression can be diagnosed and treated well over a year after birth and it’s important to understand it’s not just the baby blues which lasts only a few weeks after birth. Common symptoms include irritability, feeling isolated or anxious and noticing a change in mood. 

Other organizations are also working to reduce the stigma and raise awareness about the emotional changes that women experience during pregnancy and postpartum. 

Postpartum Support International (PSI) has a chapter in Texas which can provide local volunteers who can help find specially trained therapists or psychiatric prescribers. 

For help, contact the National Maternal Mental Health Hotline at 833-852-6262 or PSI Helpline

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