About 15 parents stood in a circle at Blacklick Woods Metro Park in Reynoldsburg, braving the heat and humidity of a late July evening.
Everyone had their eyes closed. One woman had one hand on her heart and the other on her stomach.
“I am enough just the way I am,” said Ivory Levert, leading a guided meditation. “I welcome moments of rest and ease and incorporate them into everyday life. I speak my truth and ask for what I need.”
The group gathered on July 24 as part of Root to Rise, an event where the organization’s co-founders Black women in nature took the members of Rise – a maternal mental health organization that caters specifically to black parents – a walk in the park.
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Arise is an offshoot of Perinatal Outreach and Encouragement for Mothers (POEM), a program of Mental Health America of Ohio that provides peer support groups, referrals and education on pregnancy and mood and anxiety disorders for mothers and families in Ohio.
The outdoor walk capped Rise’s week of events for Black Mother’s Mental Health Week, which in turn was part of July’s National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. The designation acknowledges the struggles that underrepresented groups face regarding mental illness in the United States, according to Mental Health America.
To help, Rise offers a mentor program and referrals for counselors and psychiatrists of color, among other offerings.
“They offer wrap-around services like support groups that happen often and then they also call you depending on what’s going on with your pregnancy or in your life,” said member Tiffany Davis Hale, 30, of the East Side. “It’s really based on what you need and I like that.”
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Rise creates safe space for families of color
When Hailee Childs, 34, joined POEM as its senior manager of community programs in 2019, Rise was already being developed by the organization. Her job was to promote it and organize the first support group.
“We started being intentional about making sure we were in the doctor’s office, the OB (obstetrician’s) office, the pediatrician’s office and the WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) offices where our mothers.” Childs said.
POEM and Rise program coordinator Cass Stewart, 44, said the organization realized there was a gap in care for women of color in Greater Columbus and that a special branch was needed.
According to the Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance, Mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety disorders are the most common complications of pregnancy and childbirth, affecting one in five people during pregnancy or after birth.
Black women are twice as likely to experience mental health problems, but only half as likely to receive treatment. More than 50% of postpartum depression cases for women of color go unreported, according to the alliance.
“We realized that our services needed to be more culturally relevant and specific to that group,” Stewart said. “So Rise became a thing and began to grow.”
The number of referrals from health care providers increased significantly during the early days of the pandemic, especially when lockdown orders were in effect, Stewart said.
For this year so far, the number of referrals is 576 people, Childs said.
Most of Rise’s support group meetings have been virtual for the past two years, but they will switch to in-person meetings at the end of August, she said.
Both Childs and Stewart know firsthand about these types of services. Both said they experienced depression and anxiety after premature births.
“I feel like I’m just using my superpowers to help other moms activate their superpowers, too, that you can really do that,” Stewart said.
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Finding a community
One of the Rise members who participated in the recent outdoor walk was Turquoise Connelly, who noted, as the group took its first break during a 1.5-mile walk, how refreshing it was to be outside with a group of women. black.
“Normally, when I go by myself, I feel very tired just being physically alone and then knowing that people have their own expectations and aggressions towards black people out in the woods; like you’re not supposed to be there,” Connelly said. . “But I don’t feel that now.”
Connelly, who is non-binary and uses their/them pronouns, said they felt alone after having their daughter Riley in 2020, experiencing postpartum depression and anxiety. Most of this stress was due to being diagnosed with preeclampsia after giving birth, a condition that occurs when someone has high blood pressure shortly after birth.
“It made breastfeeding extremely difficult and I had all these people (doctors and lactation groups) who would shame me when I was struggling to breastfeed and wouldn’t give me any medical support for it to help me to increase my supply. “, Connelly said. “And the emotional resources were lacking as well.”
The 33-year-old Franklinton resident was given two medications for high blood pressure but still had trouble pumping milk. So they switched to formula.
Connolly joined Rise in February and said their mental health has greatly improved. Members referred them to a therapist to help with anxiety and depression, and they feel welcome in the group as an LGBTQ person. One-year-old Riley even joined Connelly on the nature walk.
Now pregnant with their second child, Connolly feels more prepared this time around.
“POEM is an invaluable resource. It’s priceless.”