Perinatal Mental Health Support for Parents of Color: Interview with Lauren Elliott, Founder of Candlelit Therapy
Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are very common, and can cause significant suffering and distress for many new parents. Black women and women of color are often at higher risk of such disorders. Despite this, there has been a lack of culturally relevant mental health supports for such parents. Candlelit Therapy, a company based in New York City, aims to change this by providing access to mental health supports that are specifically designed for new or expecting parents who are black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC).
The services provided by Candlelit Therapy include Candlelit Care, a point-of-care digital therapeutic that allows BIPOC parents to access culturally sensitive mental health services. These include education, screening for perinatal and anxiety disorder, and mental health supports. Having a new baby can be a challenging time, so protecting and nurturing mental health during this period is important for both parent and child.
Medgadget recently featured an interview with Kwame Ulmer, Co-Founder of MedTech Color, a non-profit that aims to increase the representation of people of color in the medtech industry. Medtech Color organizes an annual pitch competition, and this year Candlelit Therapy won $50,000, along with some other prizes.
Medgadget had the opportunity to speak with Lauren Elliott, founder of Candlelit Therapy, about the company and the recent prize win.
Conn Hastings, Medgadget: Please give us an overview of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and the consequences they can have for parents.
Lauren Elliott, Candlelit Therapy: Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are mental health symptoms that occur during pregnancy or up to one year postpartum and can become a multigenerational issue, negatively affecting the mother and child’s long-term physical, emotional, and developmental health. Each year in the US, nearly half of new moms develop what’s called a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder, which carry a societal cost in the U.S. of $14.2 billion, by the time their baby turns 1. Less than 10% of women who screened positive for postpartum depression received treatment in the following year after childbirth. Black women are at a higher risk for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) before, during and after pregnancy. That’s why we’re changing how we screen and support women and birthing parents before, during and after pregnancy.
Medgadget: How do these conditions affect black women and women of color? Are they at higher risk of developing perinatal mood and anxiety disorders?
Lauren Elliott: At Candlelit, we know Black women and birthing parents deserve better. That’s why we’ve built a new standard of perinatal mental healthcare rooted in cultural competence, evidence-based risk assessment and peer-led therapy. Nearly two million Black women and women of color give birth each year in the U.S., while a majority of new and expectant families don’t receive the guidance needed to get through the journey of parenthood. We celebrate all identities, abilities and bodies. We offer a safer, simpler way to find and book culturally responsive mental health information, resources and providers and centers the emotional and mental health needs of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color and the LGBTQIA+ birthing parents.
Medgadget: What inspired you to start this business?
Lauren Elliott: I saw a lack of access to culturally-relevant perinatal mental health screening, symptom education and support within the U.S. healthcare after a traumatic birth of my son in 2017. I was never screened or asked about my emotional well-being despite having an emergency cesarean birth and unfortunately I found out that I wasn’t alone. I drew from both my personal and professional experience as a former Black public health professional and journalist, leading public mental health campaigns for the City of New York in 2019. As CEO, I lead research, operations, sales and marketing all while driving the vision for the company. I had to quickly become an advocate for my mental health and well-being and now I dedicate my time to being the much-needed advocate for all moms at-risk of complications during pregnancy and after childbirth. Today, our team includes perinatal-trained mental health providers, health equity advocates and clinical advisors from the nation’s leading medical institutions brought together to reduce health disparities among Black women and families.
Medgadget: Please give us an overview of the services you offer.
Lauren Elliott: Our flagship product, Candlelit Care, is a point-of-care digital therapeutic focused on prevention and dismantling of perinatal mental health disparities among BIPOC birthing parents and parents of the African diaspora during pregnancy and after childbirth. Our platform helps parents and their healthcare providers easily access culturally-affirming perinatal and anxiety disorder (PMAD) screening, symptom education and mental health support at no cost to the expectant patient or their family. Our 8-week program directly addresses parents facing challenges that often lead to multigenerational trauma for both mom and baby.
Medgadget: How is the service tailored for the needs of women of color?
Lauren Elliott: We’re dedicated to making sure Black women and women of color are valued, seen and respected in healthcare. When we feel off balance mentally, it can feel easier to suffer in silence at work or home rather than seek help from professionals. That’s why we’re changing how women are screened, monitored and treated, especially when starting a family, to reduce their overall risk and symptoms of burnout, anxiety and depression through virtual consultations with licensed therapists.
Medgadget: Congratulations on winning the Medtech Color 2022 Pitch Competition. How do you intend to spend the prize money, and where do you see the business going in the future?
Lauren Elliott: Thank you! I like to say that we consider this win an amazing opportunity to work with MedTech Color and also as a win for all mamas. We’ve done a lot with limited resources to date, and with this new funding we plan to invest in our team, data science efforts and our work with providers and payers who care for underserved communities to help them increase health equity in their transition to value-based care.
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