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How one comedian’s battle with postpartum depression turned laughs into legislation

Los Angeles-based comedian Angelina Spicer is not only using her experience with postpartum depression (PPD) to make audiences laugh, but also to create a fundamental change in how the illness is perceived in society.

“I didn't even know that black women could get postpartum depression,” Spicer said. “Number one as a black woman, you're not socially given the permission to just stop and cry.  Like we want to do that so badly.”

It was when she couldn’t be funny anymore that Spicer said she knew something was wrong.

Ten percent of U.S. women are at risk for postpartum depression (PPD) – and some studies suggest the rate triples in women of color.

“Researchers from all over the country are trying to understand why women of color are at higher risk,” Dr. Eynav Accortt, PH.D in Clinical Psychology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said.

“Psychologically, women of color are raised with this narrative of being a strong black woman, which is a wonderful and powerful narrative," Dr. Accortt said. “However, when one is feeling weak, when one is feeling depressed, when one is feeling anxious they need to feel comfortable to seek out professional help.”

“The mentality of, you know, we take care of everybody else and I’ll get to me last is totally a strong black women feature,” added Spicer.

BIOLOGICAL & PSYCHOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

Some researchers believe that there is a biological reason why African-American woman can be more prone to postpartum depression. From a biological perspective, women of color have a higher risk of inflammation and Vitamin D deficiencies, both of those combined can leave an individual with a higher risk of depression.

Biology is important, but social stigmas also get in the way of properly diagnosing PDD, but that is changing. “We just need to reduce stigma so people don’t feel badly about asking for help,” Spicer said.

“From a social perspective, it's really important that we are aware that discrimination and stereotypes exist,” added Dr. Accortt. “We need to be aware as providers that some of those assumptions and some of those stereotypes that we are all making may get in the way of providing the very best care that we can for our patients.”

Spicer feels fortunate that she was able to get the help she needed.

“I hear about women who have either hurt their babies and hurt themselves or run away or who are locked up," Spicer said. "And I think to myself, ‘Wow, I made it. I made it.’ And it's just something that I just do not take for granted.”

COMEDY AS AN ALLY

“As a comedian, my truth is my gateway to the funny,” Spicer said.

Angelina’s honesty in her jokes during pregnancy and the battle with postpartum depression after her daughter was born is helping to break down the social stigma while making the audience laugh.

Jerry Corely, owner of the Comedy Clinic in Los Angeles has a simple philosophic attitude as to why pain can be funny. “If you take your pain and your flaw and you speak of them and you receive laughter as a result, they are no longer your flaws, they are your power,” he said.

Spicer was able to evolve her struggle with postpartum depression and make it her power and took it up with lawmakers.

“I’m what you call an ‘accidental activist,’ I never intended on lobbying on nobody’s Capitol Hill,” Spicer said.

Yet, Spicer found herself in that very spot and had three bills approved by Governor Jerry Brown.

“The year 2020 we are talking major change,” said Spicer about the three bills, which require mandatory screening, training for medical staff to administer those screenings and federal funding to implement a referral system.

Through anxiety and pain, Spicer was able to take postpartum depression and find the strength to not only survive, but help other women who will face the same struggle.

“My advice to those moms or those women out there who don't have a dime or don't have the resources that I was blessed to have – we gotta get in front of this, we have to prevent it," she said. "Give information, reduce stigma so that people don't feel afraid to ask for help and that their needs are met with help. We need to be able to look into our family's eyes and say 'I need help' and have our family be there to meet us where we are.”

Using comedy to find her power, Spicer found allies through her audience and government.

“I had it and I made it," she said. " You know I feel like we can all be an ally to each other if we're just transparent and open and honest about it."

Spicer is currently raising funds for a feature-length documentary

To learn more about Maternal Mental Health, visit the Blue Dot Project. If you or someone you love is suffering from postpartum depression please reach out for help by visiting Postpartum International.

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