Hackernoon logoTech Must Disrupt the Mental Health Hotline Industry by@joshlee

Tech Must Disrupt the Mental Health Hotline Industry

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@joshleeJosh Lee

Investor @PascalCapital, formerly @Google and @TripAdvisor. Interested in mental health & blockchain

Venture funding in mental health and wellness companies has seen healthy growth this past year, with $321 million raised across 26 deals in the second quarter of 2019, which is a 141% jump from last year’s $227 million raised during the same quarter. The impact of this growth in popularity is having its much-desired changes in the US, with the use of meditation growing 3 folds from 2012–2017, making it as popular as yoga according to the Center for Disease Control. 
Although we have seen unicorn mental health startups arise, there is still a huge elephant in the room that these apps were not able to find a clear solution to — suicide. There are still critical problems that these startups can’t solve due to legal liability that they may have to take.
Moreover, we are living at a time where more people are at distress due to the coronavirus shutting down businesses, companies laying people off while beginning their hiring freeze, founders facing increasing difficulty in raising their rounds, a financial upheaval for those who held a lot of equity, internship programs being shut down and increasing social isolation at an unprecedented scale.
This raises an important question — until when will we stall the development of apps for those who are desperately in need?
Here are some statistics to consider:
1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness in a given year.1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6–17 experienced a mental health disorder1 in 25 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each yearSuicide is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. for people aged 10–34.Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.
And according to 2019 report from nonprofit Mental Health America:
56.4% of Americans (or over 24 million people) with a mental illness receive no treatment for their conditionReasons range from not having insurance coverage, mental health care not being covered by insurance, or the high costs of care.Over 9.8 million adults in the US reported having serious suicidal thoughts, which is about 200,000 more people than the previous year
And according to the Center for Disease Control:
Suicide rates among people 15 to 64 rose from 10.5 per 100,000 people in 1999 to 14 per 100,000 in 2017 (33% increase).
And according to a study by UCSF School of Medicine, entrepreneurs are:
2X more likely to suffer from depression6X more likely to suffer from ADHD3X more likely to suffer from substance abuse10X more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder50% more likely to report having a mental health condition72% of entrepreneurs surveyed self-reported mental health concerns
1 in 5 college students has weighed suicide (responses from 67,000 college students from more than 100 American institutions).
These numbers show that the barrier to entry for people to make that hotline call is clearly high and not able to scale to meet the needs of all who need it. Moreover, the limited number of options may not necessarily be enough, as evidenced by the recent passing of the executive director of counseling and psychological services at the University of Pennsylvania last year.
Much of the efforts are focused on helping those who are not contemplating suicide yet, but this also means that we are missing out on treating 20% of the college student population who may be seeking a solution that works for them. 
Hence, how do we discourage those who need help from hiding their suicidal thoughts to avoid the stigma and shame and what active steps could we take?
Firstly, we must work towards destigmatizing suicidal thoughts. Often, suicides are left with no notes because even until the end, people likely feel that they are stuck in the environment of fear and silence. 
One way to destigmatize suicidal thoughts and grow a community interested in changing this is to promote a Suicide Awareness Month, like the way we have Mental Health Awareness Month in May. Last year, suicide awareness week ran from September 8 to September 14, while the world suicide prevention day was September 10
However, one week is likely too short to get the reach it needs, which is why you may have never even known that such a week existed. How could we expect people to feel comfortable opening up within a 7-day window on a topic that is heavily stigmatized?
Secondly, we must begin building products for those with suicidal thoughts. A study in 2015 showed that patients share more suicidal thoughts on mobile apps than on paper in clinics and this may imply that there is an opportunity for mobile apps to treat this condition. 
The fact that only two options exist for those who are most vulnerable makes no sense, especially considering the fact that so many people are endangered. 
Lastly, we must provide tools and resources that are easily accessible for people with these conditions. As a team lead at HackMentalHealth, I am actively seeking solutions with other team leads that could ease this access. If you would like to contact us, whether that is for more resources or partnerships, please message us here.
Although suicides look like an insurmountable problem right now, I believe that a collaborative effort could lead to a decline in suicides. 
What makes this problem different from other problems is that it is statistically likely that we have a person around us who have suffered losses or lost so much control over their life that nothing makes them happy anymore.
Having worked with a countless number of mental health patients as a researcher for the lab for youth mental health, occupational therapy school and as a blue dot regional lead during my time at one of the big tech companies, I got to see that the problem of mental health hunts us ubiquitously. 
We are now seeing suicides happen at even one of the big companies like Facebook. With several academic studies showing that many suicides are hastily decided-upon (71% of the survivors decided within an hour, with 24% deciding within 5 minutes) and life being taken every 40 seconds due to suicide according to WHO, technology disruption is more needed than ever.
I hope that we could one day live in a world where there are as many therapy apps for suicide patients as we do with meditation apps for the general public.
The reason why so many meditation apps were able to succeed was that there was no one-meditation-fits-all solution.
As such, we shouldn’t assume that such a solution exists for those with suicidal thoughts either. Technology should look to empower users to do what they couldn’t do through technology and I look forward to seeing how technology looks to disrupt therapies for those with suicidal thoughts.
If you are working on projects that look to solve this issue, please message me on LinkedIn.

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