Credit: She Matters photo

The birth of your first newborn child should be a time filled with joy and happiness, or that’s what everyone tells a first-time mother. Jade Kearney’s retelling of the months after her daughter was born channeled her fear, anxiety and depression.

“I always struggled with anxiety, but after I had [my daughter], my anxiety went from zero to one hundred really quickly,” says Kearney, a mother of one and soon-to-be mother of two.

Like all mothers, caring for another human being can be daunting. Kearny had a fear of being her mother who suffered from drug addiction and left her feeling abandoned as a child. From thinking about whether you are going to be a great mother to worrying about your newborn’s health, those feelings never go away. For Kearney, she was stuck in a constant loop of extreme thoughts about the dangers that surrounded her daughter. She lost sleep, couldn’t relax, and three months after her daughter’s birth, her fears grew.

“I remember there was a period of feeling like I was losing a hold of normal life because I was so worried,” Kearney says.

Kearney had reason to fixate on these thoughts because she knew she would have to go back to work soon. Continuously thinking about having to be separated from her daughter made these feelings more prominent. However, it also had a connection with her past anxiety.

“I was afraid to do everything. I was afraid to go into the kitchen because there were knives. I was afraid of walking by the windows because I had these thoughts of wondering what if I threw her out the window.”

All these feelings masked the truth about what she was truly experiencing. She felt guilty about her thoughts and wondered why she was feeling this way. She didn’t have the answers and neither did her friends or family members. They all told her that she was fine.

“We’re Black,” Kearney’s mother told her. “We don’t have time for that. You better get it together.”

Some of her other family members accused her of being dramatic and unnecessarily anxious. Kearney just wanted to be normal and didn’t know how to do so. She wasn’t enjoying being a mother or her life. She was devastated because she wanted to be a mother. She planned out her pregnancy, but she realized that was the beginning of her anxiety.

Kearney reached out to her OBGYN and he told her she was suffering from postpartum depression. His first reaction was to prescribe her medication. This was a red flag for her. As a Black woman, she was not prone to taking medication. This was especially true when it came to some form of mental illness.

After speaking to her doctor, Kearney still had thoughts of being like her mother. She feared the childhood experiences she had to endure because of her mother’s bad parenting. “I was trying so hard not to be my mom,” Kearney says. Feeling abandoned as a child seeped into her own parenting. Kearney was afraid she might leave her daughter. She feared the way her mother raised her was going to be the same way she would raise her newborn.

Within the Black community, there is a stigma revolving around mental illness. However, African Americans are more likely to suffer from a mental illness. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “a study showed that 63% of Black people believe that a mental health condition is a sign of personal weakness.”

Most African Americans, especially women, are described as strong. So having a mental illness disrupts that notion and puts Black women at a disadvantage. Kearney is here to show that suffering from a mental illness is not something Black women, especially Black mothers, should be afraid to talk about because it is natural. Black mothers aren’t less nurturing because of it.

Kearney found herself searching through the internet trying to find other Black women she could connect with, but in some instances, the internet doesn’t have all the answers. All the articles she binged, Kearney couldn’t see herself in them; she couldn’t find anyone that looked like her. “I was looking for answers. Looking for a community of Black women to help me figure out what’s going on,” Kearney says.

Finally, Kearney was able to find these women through a Buzzfeed article. She read so many stories of Black women suffering the way she was, and she didn’t feel so alone anymore. She was able to realize through all the stories she read, these women were all able to get better.

So, who is Jade Kearney?

Jade Kearny is the founder and CEO of She Matters, an app that caters to Black women. It gives them a safe space to discuss their emotions. It provides them with the resources they need and helps them with their mental health.

One important reason why Kearney started She Matters is because of the healthcare system and the lack of treatment Black women receive. “My insurance is what allowed me to have all this access to great mental healthcare,” Kearney says.

In the healthcare system, Black people are less prone to receive adequate healthcare treatment. They are still victimized by societal prejudices to get the help they need. Many Black Americans do not have healthcare, so it makes it even harder for these individuals to receive medical attention. Kearney’s journey searching for a therapist was difficult because she couldn’t find someone who could help her. Many of the therapists that treated her started by giving her medication the moment she described her thoughts.

Kearney learned about cognitive behavioral therapy and found a therapist in New York who could help her. Cognitive behavioral therapy involves changing an individual’s behavior that may be unhelpful and unhealthy to them. According to the Mayo Clinic, this kind of therapy helps individuals become aware of their negative behavior and understand and respond to them more effectively.

Kearney’s therapist also helped her through the use of exposure therapy. This kind of therapy is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that exposes an individual to their targeted fear without harming them. He was very understanding and helped Kearney through using this kind of technique, and she found that this was helping her.

Despite the success she had with her therapist, she still wanted to find a Black woman therapist. “I said if I don’t feel close to myself by the time [my daughter] is one, then I’ll consider taking antidepressants,” Kearney says. “But I wanted to find a Black psychiatrist, a woman. That was hard.”

Within the psychology industry, African Americans are clearly underrepresented. According to the American Psychology Association, only 4% of Black or African American individuals are psychologists. However, Kearney was able to find a Black psychologist who encouraged her to take antidepressants and not see it as an enemy. Her therapist mentioned that the antidepressants would help her receive the therapy in the right way. So, once her daughter turned 1 years old, she started to take the medication and was able to feel more like herself.

“Something changed, “ says Kearney. “The therapy was able to work and it allowed me to relax and sleep. I really started to feel like [I] was able to calm down.”

Jade Kearney’s story helped her create She Matters because she wanted to make sure that other Black women who are going through postpartum depression and anxiety or any mental health issues are able to find a safe space where they can connect with others. She is creating an environment where these women can be vocal about the feelings they experience.

“This allowed me to see what my mission really was, which is to help Black women who experience postpartum depression and anxiety and other types of PMADs,” Kearney says. “It can be a lonely space.”