RACINE — Four years ago, Genie Webb was crossing the street with her three year-old daughter holding her hand and her 36 week-old son growing in her belly when a car hit her.
Her son was delivered by emergency c-section. For what felt like eternity, the situation was touch-and-go, with her son’s fate uncertain.
Webb said she struggled mentally at that time. But she came out the other end having learned some techniques for staying grounded.
“Before I got to the point of feeling overwhelmed and feeling sadness and staying in that sadness, I identified who was there for me,” she said. “Who I can go to and talk to to get me through those things?”
Now, her 4-year-old son is a healthy, happy boy who was running around the Racine Kenosha Community Action Agency on Thursday.
Webb was there for the launch of a new initiative from the Lifecourse Initiative for Health Families aimed at addressing maternal depression, called “Strong Moms, Strong Villages,” which seeks to de-stigmatize depression and rally the community around supporting women in need.
Samantha Perry, RKCAA planning coordinator, and Schinika Fitch, with Athena Communications, which developed the outreach campaign, said they’ll use the metaphors of the village and quilts to symbolize the support and connections that family, friends and community can provide to women who are experiencing depression.
“(Webb) is an example of having the great family support, that village, if you will, that quilt, if you will, that really surrounded her and made sure that she felt she was supported,” said Perry. “We all want to make sure that more and more families have that awareness of being able to support people.”
The initiative also wants to connect women who don’t have a strong support network or are experiencing greater need with mental health resources.
“For people who don’t have that, that aren’t as fortunate there are other places and other support programs where they can connect with someone and seek additional help if needed,” said Perry.
Strong moms, strong villages
A Center for Disease Control study earlier this year estimated that 1 in 9 women experience maternal depression. Perry said that among black women, those numbers can be as high as 1 in 4.
“And those are individuals who actually said something about it,” said Perry.
RKCAA started looking into the issue about two years ago as part of the LIHF initiative and found that within the black community in particular, there was a lack of understanding and stigma about depression that prevented women from seeking support.
“As it relates to black women, there’s that stigma of, ‘Would I be labeled as crazy?’ ‘Will they take my children?’” said Perry. “Things of that nature which are very, very real issues. Some of that is what keeps individuals from moving forward.”
To that end the “Strong moms, strong villages” hopes to reduce the stigma surrounding depression so mothers feel comfortable seeking help sooner rather than later.
At the kick-off on Thursday, RKCAA’s event which was attended by about a dozen women with their families, live-streamed with corresponding events in Milwaukee and Kenosha. The women learned about early warning signs and how to reach out and advocate for the help they need.
“So often in the African American community, depression is, ‘Pray about it,’” said Perry. “You don’t really speak about it because you have this, ‘I’m a strong African American woman. I have to be strong.’”
More resources needed
Another issue is the lack of mental health care professionals in general.
“There isn’t enough to accommodate if everyone who needed it were to step forward and say, ‘Hey, I need some support,” said Perry.
To that end LIHF, which is an initiative out of the University of Wisconsin Partnership Program, plans to advocate at the legislative level for increased access to mental health care providers and higher reimbursements for providers so more will be drawn to the state.
In the meantime, they’re compiling resources for women, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and mental health practitioners, especially those that are of African American descent.
“People feel more comfortable sharing their stories with someone that they think can relate to them and can understand where they’re coming from from a cultural standpoint,” said Fitch.
LIHF and Athena plan on organizing future events and a social media campaign. To learn more, visit: strongmomsstrongvillages.org