Family Life, Health, Pregnancy & Baby, Wellness

Bridging the Maternal Mental Health Gap

Artie Varnado is the founder of Conscious Moms, a non-profit that is transforming the lives of mothers facing mental health disparity by advocating for and supporting women affected by maternal mental health conditions. As a business-savvy person, Varnado, who founded Finley & Co. in 2020, wanted to bring community work back into her business but wasn’t sure how. During this time, the COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges and obstacles for many Americans, but one group stood out to Varnado in particular: moms.

As a mother herself, Varnado noticed the particular challenges mothers faced during the pandemic and how society expected moms to become everything for everyone. “During this time, moms had to become everything,” says Varnado. “Mother, nurse, teacher, chef, and so many other things is what is expected of mothers on a daily basis. But in the midst of the pandemic, these roles were stretched thin.” She realized the pandemic exacerbated mental health issues, bringing them to the forefront of public awareness. And yet, the prevailing notion remains that mothers should silently bear the challenges of motherhood, even during a global pandemic. Conscious Moms aims to challenge this narrative, encouraging moms who are struggling to seek help.

“Mental health came on the rise during the pandemic, but now it’s on the forefront because people are recognizing the importance of self-care,” says Varnado. Despite this statement, a report card from the Louisiana Department of Health reveals Louisiana’s mental health deficiencies, resulting in a D-minus for the state.

“The deficiencies we have are very easy fixes. The groundwork is in place, it’s just about implementing a plan. What we’re trying to do is provide education pieces for the public, community and healthcare providers,” says Varnado. Conscious Moms identifies issues such as insurance hurdles and inadequate education, offering straightforward solutions to these challenges, and emphasizing the importance of education, community involvement, and collaboration with healthcare professionals.

Louisiana is a state with a lot of health deserts, and many parishes lack healthcare providers. The ratio of provider to patient is heavily weighted on the patient’s side, leaving many individuals without adequate care. Conscious Moms focuses on ensuring access to mental healthcare for vulnerable populations, particularly those with low socio-economic status. Efforts to engage with local senators, introduce bills, and extend perinatal Medicaid coverage are underway, highlighting the commitment to systemic change. Conscious Moms also addresses the financial barrier to mental health therapy by allocating funds to support mothers who cannot afford these services.

The organization has funding set up to help provide maternal mental healthcare for all moms by covering the cost of therapy and medication, coordinating with the state of Louisiana to improve healthcare coverage and educating others through community-wide events. In addition, Conscious Moms has future plans to open up maternal mental health crisis centers that will provide laundry services, 24-hour childcare assistance, and meal prep assistance. Looking ahead, Conscious Moms aims to gather data through partnerships with local universities, emphasizing the importance of numbers in garnering support throughout the state. The organization intends to implement programs for recognizing and treating maternal mental health issues through collaboration with local OBGYN groups. Conscious Moms strives to start a community-based perinatal mental health support group to help mothers walk through the joys and hardships of motherhood.

“Motherhood should be beautiful. If you find yourself looking at it as a burden, then maybe it’s time to talk to someone–to look for a support group. It’s time to restore motherhood and the beauty of being a mom,” adds Varnado.

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