At the 2016 Clinton Foundation Health Matters conference earlier this week US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy zeroed in on two themes that would be repeated throughout the meeting: physical environment matters greatly for overall health, and mental health struggles need to be brought out of the shadows.
These two issues are usually intertwined: high crime areas lack safe areas for walking, and they are typically also “food desert” areas where liquor stores and fast food outlets serve only highly processed foods loaded with sugar.
The resulting mix of a negative living environment and poor food options can lead to chronic stress, obesity, and depression in many people.
President Clinton led a discussion with Murthy and several other physicians on how health technology can help vulnerable populations, and there were some interesting ideas offered.
Mental Health Support & Therapy On the Go
While some underserved groups in the US may not have internet access, it is increasingly likely that they will have a cell phone with at least basic calling and texting capability. This capability can provide a basic platform for improving mental health outcomes.
Dr. Nate Gross, co-founder of Rock Health, spoke at length about how health apps on mobile devices can provide 24×7 mental health and wellness support – a therapist in your pocket is the basic concept.
Lantern, a Rock Health portfolio company, provides an online app for treating anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. Each Lantern user is paired with a professional online coach (typically a licensed professional) to help support goals agreed upon during the Lantern program, which usually lasts 12-16 weeks.
Puppies are Better Than Nurses
Ginger.io, another mental health and wellness startup, has an impressive 500 million hours of data from its users that it can analyze to predict when certain negative events are happening, such as major anxiety or depression episodes.
Dr. Anmol Madan, co-founder of Ginger.io, related how their mental wellness app is able to offer concrete ideas to users struggling with depression and anxiety, with choices like “Call a nurse now” and “Watch a video of puppies playing”.
It turns out that watching a video of cute puppies is hands down the most popular choice of Ginger.io users as a healthy way to relieve stress.
Intuitively, this makes sense, but having the data from thousands of users to support best options for mental wellness gives Lantern, Ginger.io and other startups some needed credibility in the new world of online mental health therapy.
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