Queens lawmaker addresses maternal mental health with new legislation

Jackson Heights Assemblywoman Jessica González-Rojas (Photo courtesy of González-Rojas’ office)

Assemblywoman Jessica González-Rojas is sponsoring legislation to address the inadequacies of maternal mental health screenings, especially for Black and Brown women. 

The bill, S7753 in the Senate with the accompanying Assembly bill pending, would require the New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH) and the Department of Health to study the shortcomings of existing postpartum mental health screenings to combat under-diagnoses of vulnerable populations. 

The study will examine additional questions or tools that could potentially maximize effectiveness, as well as identify racial disparities and ways to eliminate transgender and non-binary discrimination in current screening protocols. 

As a mother, González-Rojas said she has been aware of these issues for several years. For years, the assemblywoman has advocated for reproductive justice. 

“Maternal mental health issues impact women and people of color, and this is particularly true in Queens where there are diverse communities including immigrant communities,” González-Rojas said. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one out of eight women in the U.S. reported postpartum depression (PPD) symptoms. González-Rojas pointed out that this statistic can be even higher for Black women, who are three times more likely to experience PPD, and Latinas are 40% more likely than white women to experience PPD. 

“This is also true for Asian women who experience greater rates of postpartum depression and maternal mental health issues compared to white women,” González-Rojas said. “Because Queens is so diverse, this is an issue that impacts the borough and is a racial justice issue for the entire state.”

Maternal mental health conditions include PPD, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar illness and substance use disorders. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Black women are more likely to experience these conditions due to a lack of income or education, high-stress environments and less access to quality health care. 

González-Rojas said the pandemic has clarified how important it is to prioritize mental health. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed so many of the inequities in our public health and mental health delivery system,” González-Rojas said. “Now more than ever, we understand that mental health matters but there is a serious mental health crisis occurring for Black and Brown mothers and people who give birth. It is exacerbated by systemic racism and sexism, and we must address it if we want a healthier New York State.”

After the legislation was introduced, the assemblywoman said that about 10 colleagues communicated support of the bill across the state. She believes that this issue impacts the entire state, not just the diverse borough of Queens, and is hopeful that the bill will pass in this legislative session. 

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