Association of COVID-19 and Endemic Systemic Racism with Postpartum Anxiety and Depression among Black Birthing Individuals

Wanjikũ F.M. Njoroge, Lauren K. White, Rebecca Waller, Markolline Forkpa, Megan M. Himes, Kadina Morgan, Jakob Seidlitz, Barbara H. Chaiyachati, Ran Barzilay, Sara L. Kornfield, Julia Parish-Morris, Yuheiry Rodriguez, Valerie Riis, Heather H. Burris, Michal A. Elovitz, Raquel E. Gur

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Importance: The intersection of endemic structural racism and the global health crisis secondary to the COVID-19 pandemic represents a syndemic, defined as the aggregation of 2 or more endemic and epidemic conditions leading to adverse repercussions for health. Long-standing inequities have placed Black individuals at disproportionate risk for negative postpartum mental health outcomes. Studies are urgently needed to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic has added to this risk (eg, syndemic associations). Objective: To examine the association between the syndemic and the postpartum mental health of Black birthing individuals. Design, Setting, and Participants: A longitudinal cohort of Black birthing individuals were followed up from pregnancy (April 17 to July 8, 2020) through the early postpartum period (August 11, 2020, to March 2, 2021) from urban university medical center prenatal clinics. Pregnant Black participants were recruited via email and completed 2 online surveys. Main Outcomes and Measures: Composite variables capturing negative experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic and racism (structural racism [general], structural racism [neighborhood], and interpersonal racism) were created. Logistic regressions examined main and interactive associations between these variables and postpartum depression (Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale) and anxiety (Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7-item scale). Results: The mean (SD) age of 151 Black participants was 30.18 (5.65) years. The association between higher negative COVID-19 pandemic experiences and postpartum depression may be influenced by experiences of interpersonal racism and general systemic racism. Negative COVID-19 pandemic experiences were associated with greater likelihood of screening positive for depression only at higher levels of systemic racism (odds ratio, 2.52; 95% CI, 1.38-4.60) and interpersonal racism (odds ratio, 1.90; 95% CI, 1.04-3.48) but not at lower levels of systemic or interpersonal racism. Similarly, negative COVID-19 experiences were associated with anxiety only at higher levels of interpersonal racism (odds ratio, 1.85; 95% CI, 0.86-4.01) but not at lower levels of interpersonal racism. Overall, 44 (29%) met screening criteria for postpartum depression and 20 (13%) for postpartum anxiety. Conclusions and Relevance: In this longitudinal cohort study of Black birthing individuals, the experience of the syndemic was associated with negative postpartum mental health. Associations between interpersonal racism, structural racism, and negative COVID-19 pandemic experiences were associated with greater risk for postpartum depression and anxiety. Research is needed to address how systemic racism perturbs biobehavioral pathways to magnify associations between acute stressors and mental health. Such research can inform the creation of effective, culturally informed preventive interventions to improve the postpartum mental health of Black individuals..

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)600-609
Number of pages10
JournalJAMA Psychiatry
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2022
Externally publishedYes


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