Ph.D. Computer Science Student Combats Mental Health Inequities

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Juggling the challenges of new motherhood along with racial and gender stressors requires a unique solution. Ph.D. in Computer Science student, Vanessa Oguamanam, is working on just that. 

"In the United States, a pressing concern is the mental health of new mothers," said Oguamanam. 

According to Oguamanam, innovation is essential to support emotional and psychological wellness during pregnancy and childbirth, particularly for those most vulnerable to poor mental health, such as racially minoritized women. 

"I plan to develop a digital health system to address mental health disparities experienced by racially-minoritized women during pregnancy," said Oguamanam. 

Developing a Nuanced Approach to Digital Solutions

According to Oguamanam, racially-minoritized women, especially U.S. Black women, face higher rates of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and lifetime stress compared with their white counterparts. 

“Despite these challenges, Black women underutilize mental health services due to barriers including stigma, financial constraints, limited access, and culturally appropriate care,” said Oguamanam. “While mobile applications show promise in increasing access to mental health services, existing systems often fail to address the cultural context and drivers of mental health inequities faced by Black women.” 

Insights from National Study

Oguamanam conducted a nationwide survey study investigating how perinatal Black women utilize existing technology to manage their mental health. She presented her findings at the 2023 CHI Conference in her published paper, “An Intersectional Look at Use of and Satisfaction with Digital Mental Health Platforms: A Survey of Perinatal Black Women.” Her study revealed that 88.1% of perinatal Black women utilize digital platforms for mental health support. 

These insights underscore the importance of nuanced approaches to digital interventions that can accommodate the unique needs and perspectives of women with particular intersectional experiences and identities. They highlight the significance of designing interventions that effectively understand, celebrate, and cater to the experiences of marginalized groups and people of color.

Chih Award Funds Assist in Bringing Dissertation to Life

Oguamanam’s published work earned a Chih Foundation Graduate Student Research Publication award. The Foundation awards graduate students whose research publication(s) reflect invention and innovation for the betterment of society. Each awardee receives $2,500 to pursue their research. 

Funding and Project Overview

“My proposed work involves designing, developing, and evaluating a culturally targeted mobile app to support perinatal Black women in managing stress and building resilience against mental health challenges related to racial and gender-based stressors,” said Oguamanam. “Through my research, I aim to provide technology design guidelines that enhance mental health equity, strengthen digital mental health platforms for vulnerable populations, and enable equitable access to mental health resources for all individuals, regardless of their background.” 

Oguamanam is one of four graduate students awarded the 2023 Chih Foundation Graduate Student Research Publication. Congratulations to the following 2023 Chih Foundation Graduate Student Research Publication award recipients: Andrés-Felipe Castro Méndez, Dongsuk Sung, Hantian Zhang, and Vanessa Oguamanam.


  • Workflow Status:Published
  • Created By:Sara Franc
  • Created:12/14/2023
  • Modified By:Fletcher Moore
  • Modified:03/22/2024