Irad Eichler is the CEO of Circles, the support group platform connecting people going through similar struggles.
It seems like all recent conversations are about COVID-19’s implications on our lives. But, lives’ usual hardships carry on; My friend lost her spouse to cancer. She has three kids. He was an engineer, 46 years old, at the peak of his career. He fought cancer for two and half years, and now it’s over. One can only imagine what she’s going through. Another friend is going through a difficult divorce. He’s trying to balance setting up a new home, being an active dad, and creating a new type of relationship with his ex-wife, all while dealing with serious financial stress. He’s doing his best, but he feels very lonely and that he has nowhere to turn for help.
We all have friends who are going through hard times like these. In fact, we all go through hard times like these at some point ourselves. If we’re facing an illness, we go to the doctor; if we’re going through a divorce, we go to a lawyer. One would think that when people have to deal with their mental health, they’d go to a therapist. And although some do, most don't.
Why aren’t my friends seeking treatment while dealing with their personal crises? I believe it is because therapists are neither accessible nor customized to their needs: traditional therapy can be very expensive for many people, and it’s usually a long term process. For many people, therapy can be a “dark rabbit hole” - you don't know what the process entails, how long it will take, or what the expectations should be. And one of the main obstacles to seeking treatment or support for your hardship, such as therapy, is the stigma involved - the idea that it’s not “normal” to see a therapist.
The idea of therapy as a taboo is quickly changing; we’re reaching an era where mental health will become a consumer product. Similar to modern medicine that has evolved to have a specific treatment for every disease, in the near future, we’ll have a specific mental health product for various life crises.
In order for mental health consumer products to succeed I believe they need three key characteristics, which I will discuss in the following section.
1- Structured and time-limited
One interesting fact about us - human beings - is that we adjust to everything. Even our mental state has a lot to do with timeframes and deadlines. Unlike traditional therapy where a patient is scheduled for a session once a week with an indefinite amount of sessions, the new medium for mental health remedy will set patients down a course with a deadline to meet goals, and once they’ve reached those goals, they’ll always have an option to seek additional help.
For example, if a student has a deadline, he will either finish the task in a timely fashion or finish the task one second before the deadline. It’s the same with mental processes - if a patient joins a program with a timeline, they will adjust their process to the given time.
2 - On-demand basis
My friend who lost her spouse has a lot on her plate. Her personal grief, taking care of her kids, running a home, managing her career -- not to mention taking care of herself. She’s now in need of support and tools to get her through this difficult time. Although she may not need mental health support long term, she needs it now, and in the near future, she will be able to access mental health products exactly when she needs them.
Finding a 1:1 therapist that she would feel comfortable sharing personal details with is time-consuming and often tedious. With mental health products becoming on-demand, she will be able to find something to suit her exact needs in a shorter amount of time for her specific difficulties.
For others facing different struggles such as veterans, or even those stressed from work, they will be able to find a way to combat their mental health struggle for their specific needs when they decide they need help, whether it is immediate or not.
3 - A Hybrid platform (incorporating peer and professional support)
For many years, mental health has been the domain of professionals, and no doubt it has helped many. In the past dozen years, however, we’ve learned that peer support and lived experience can be just as effective. Social networks have made peer support accessible and people are connecting and communicating around mutual challenges. Today, but even more so in the future, we’ll see more and more hybrid models where peer support guided by a mental health professional will become common practice.
Imagine a platform where anyone could find a specific mental health solution for any struggle they are going through. If they just experienced a breakup - they can join a circle of support with 6 other women who also recently broke up with someone. They could spend one hour a week with them, sharing their experiences and gaining mutual relief and support. If they are going through a divorce or dealing with the loss of a loved one or facing an illness - why shouldn’t they be able to find professional and peer support that’s designed to help them get through that specific difficult time in their life?
Mental health can be a consumer-driven product, tailored to meet people’s needs, defined with clear boundaries, expectations, and time limits, and consumed alongside others so they are not alone. And it should be accessible to all - available like a product, with specific answers to specific problems.
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