good thing you’re good,” Wes Dickinson

December 7, 2020; New York Times

Another of today’s stories looks at rising business startups in Oregon, but Oregon is not the only state seeing new businesses form at a steady clip. A story in the New York Times, for example, covers the proliferation of mental health startups nationally in response to the pandemic, with many seeking to provide services that are more accessible and tailored to community need. Some of these are being seeded by venture capital, and considering what that kind of money has done to other segments of medicine, like nursing homes, that development could be good or potentially disastrous.

But many of these entrepreneurs have had experiences in their own families with mental health treatment that displayed only too vividly how broken many existing service systems are. As might have been anticipated, many of the new modalities involve remote forms. The Times interviewed David Mohr, the director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, who says studies have shown “there are no substantial differences in outcomes between remote and face-to-face” therapy. Additionally, as NPQ noted this past July, remote options can even help remove some of the barriers.

“We are at an inflection point,” Mohr says. “There is a greater acceptance of the use of technology in mental health care, while at the same time there is a tremendous decrease in the stigma” of seeking help with mental health problems.

Some of the new efforts are structured as platforms where consumers are matched to therapists via algorithms. Others are designed to help the therapist and patient monitor their symptoms. In both, there are overriding concerns regarding privacy and payment. But in the realm of nonprofits, where there’s no prospect of making big money off of the pain of others, many nonprofits are struggling with new or increased demand in the absence of sufficient funding, and this is leading to freer community discussion about emotional health under stress. This stress is particularly severe in communities of color—in some cases leading to expansion of existing services delivered in a more innovative and integrated manner. In terms of new efforts, for instance, Kaiser News reports on services hosted in Black churches, relating the story of one older woman whose senior center had closed due to COVID. A radio show hosted by her church helped her figure out what she had to do to stay mentally healthy. Other churches have been inviting psychologists to share the pulpit.

“COVID undoubtedly has escalated this conversation in great ways,” said Keon Gerow, senior pastor at Catalyst Church in West Philadelphia. “It has forced Black churches—some of which have been older, traditional and did not want to have this conversation—to actually now have this conversation in a very real way.”—Ruth McCambridge