Just three weeks after George Floyd’s murder, 26 year-old Sha-Asia Semple died shortly after the birth of her first child due to fatal errors in properly administering her epidural and a subsequent failed intubation in a Brooklyn public hospital. In September of 2021 in Queens, NY 29 year-old mother of two Denise Williams died 48 hours after being admitted to the hospital for complaints of postpartum depression. Although at first the cause of her death was unknown, later reports confirmed it was a pulmonary embolism that had gone undetected. According to her family, Ms. Williams had been under enormous physical and emotional stress during her two month postpartum period, but hadn’t been able to address her own health needs until it was too late.
Although seemingly unrelated incidents, both cases involved the untimely death of two black mothers in NYC related to huge disparities in our maternal healthcare system. In New York City, Black women are nine times more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications than white women. Research suggests that racial disparities in maternal deaths are also linked to the fact that Black women are often more likely to deliver at hospitals with a lower quality of obstetric care, ranging from lower-performing doctors to understaffing, which forces patients in distress to wait longer. This breeds negligence and incompetence, making tragic but preventable cases like Sha-Asia and Denise’s more common.
In a post-Roe America, there are more barriers than ever preventing black birthing people from getting the critical perinatal care they deserve, including lack of paid parental leave as well as lack of insurance coverage for postpartum doula care or mental and behavioral health care for PMADs, (approximately 80% of which go undetected due to lack of awareness, routine screening, and stigma.) The words of Shawnee Benton Gibson, whose daughter Shamony Gibson also died from a preventable pulmonary embolism in 2019, echo louder than ever: “Black wombs matter. Black minds matter. Black bodies matter. Black communities matter.”
Post by Sharon Itkoff Nacache ATR-BC LCAT LPAT PMH-C
Original photo via Unsplash
A recent "Discover" magazine article highlighted the benefits of visual art exposure on mental health. Viewing visual art activates the same brain reward systems as other pleasurable, highly sensory activities. Studies have shown that regardless of the context of where the art is observed–whether it's a gallery, museum, or even an online exhibit from home–other physiological benefits can include lowered stress levels, blood pressure, and anxiety when engaged in mindful art observation for at least two minutes. “Maybe it makes you think about your identity, evokes certain memories or elicits different sensations. This may allow you to learn new things about yourself and make the art-viewing experience something transformative,” reflects art therapist Sarah Vollmann.
Imagine if this positive impact could be translated to stressful workplace environments as well. Particularly for those in “frontline” helping professions during the ongoing pandemic, caregiver burnout remains an underreported yet incredibly common mental health syndrome exacerbated by lack of systemic support and exposure to chronic stress. This can lead employees to feel “checked out,” undervalued, resentful, and/or reactive, which in turn, negatively impacts job performance and quality of patient care. In response, the Whitney Museum of American Art has recently partnered with NYC Health + Hospitals Arts in Medicine program to provide integrative arts-based wellness workshops to hospital employees inspired by art pieces on loan from their collection and featured throughout the medical facility. Yesterday I was privileged to begin a new role in co-facilitating the first of these integrative workshops at a Manhattan hospital, where we applied creative resilience skill-building, social-emotional learning, and art observation mindfulness techniques to creative responses pieces and personal reflection. Vollmann continues, “I believe that the importance of art cannot be overstated. We are living in difficult times, and struggles with mental health are on the rise. The exhibits of museums and galleries can provide a sanctuary of sorts from the chaos and stress of our daily lived experiences, and, conversely, they can help us to face and make meaning of the struggles that we face.” Now, through this program, we are working to bring these crucial creative safe spaces to the workplace as well. #burnoutprevention #caregiverburnout #mentalhealthawareness #artheals #creativeresilience #mindfulness #safespaces
Post, artwork, and photograph by Sharon Itkoff Nacache ATR-BC LCAT LPAT PMH-C