With the sharp decline in mental health in America over the past few years, the behavioral health space is ripe for innovation. One company that was at the forefront before the pandemic even began is Denver-based SonderMind. I recently met with Mark Frank, founder and CEO of SonderMind, to talk about how he plans to change the face of behavioral health care, what the future holds for mental health, and how leaders can better support their employees in this. Difficult moment .
Gary Drenik: Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, there appear to be countless mental health companies. What are you doing differently at SonderMind to help improve mental health across the country?
Mark Frank: We launched SonderMind before the pandemic with a simple but comprehensive mission: to redesign behavioral health to improve access, usage and results. Of course, the pandemic changed everything: from a business point of view, we had to move quickly to offering virtual therapy, and from a societal point of view, we saw a welcome reduction in the stigma of seeking mental health. The pandemic gave us all a better understanding of the importance of mental health because we saw these health challenges in our families, our colleagues and ourselves. And many of us have begun to realize that mental health and physical health are one and the same.
We take a holistic approach to providing high quality mental health at SonderMind. We apply an individual approach to care, which begins with the use of innovative technology to help people not only find a therapist, but also to find the right therapist online for them. We offer both personal and virtual care options from therapists who are committed to providing best-in-class care to all people, focusing on high-quality clinical outcomes. In fact, we investigated our use of measurement-based care, demonstrating that SonderMind’s clinical questionnaire engagement system leads to better therapeutic results. We enable our therapists to thrive by defining care expectations, while providing tools such as clinical record keeping, protected telehealth opportunities, measurement of results, messages and direct reservations. We are also looking to the future of mental health and how we can make it even more unique to each individual by using artificial intelligence technologies to better understand how to improve effective treatments.
Drenik: What are the current health problems you are trying to solve?
Frank: I take the phrase “behavioral health processing” literally. We are committed to the Herculean task of correcting systemic problems in the behavioral health industry and working with everyone involved, from therapists to insurance providers to individuals, to create compelling new offerings. Before the pandemic, I would say that reducing the stigma of seeking care is another priority. Now that we are seeing a reduction in stigma due to the challenges of the pandemic and many high-profile public talks on mental health, I see three main challenges we are facing. First, the separation of physical and mental health, which must be eliminated. For too long, the two systems have been treated separately, despite the fact that mental and physical health are inextricably linked. Second, we need to focus more on prevention techniques to improve mental health. Finally, mental health and behavioral health suffer from a lack of objective data to diagnose problems and measure the effectiveness of care models. At SonderMind, we strive to address these and other issues through our integrated, supportive, objective and comprehensive approach to providing high quality care to people.
Drenik: I read that SonderMind recently acquired Qntfy, a company that applies a data-based approach to mental health. What does the use of data in the treatment of a patient’s mental health mean?
Frank: The future of mental health care is personalized and unique to each individual, and data makes that possible. At SonderMind, we see opportunities to integrate data that you voluntarily provide to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your therapeutic journey. Importing Qntfy into SonderMind is a huge step to help us achieve this. Using innovative AI / ML technology, we are exploring the provision of end-to-end travel that can be uniquely tailored to everyone in order to lead the industry by helping people benefit significantly from long-term mental health solutions.
Drenik: The Covid-19 pandemic has created a nationwide mental health crisis. Why do you think that was the case and do you think that things are better today?
Frank: According to a recent survey by Prosper Insights & Analytics, nearly 23% of Americans have become more anxious and 18% have become more depressed after the pandemic. And while those numbers are incredibly disappointing, I believe we are facing a mental health crisis here in the United States long before the pandemic, and Covid-19 brought it to the fore. Every part of our lives has been stressed and, on top of that, we have been isolated in our homes away from our traditional support systems and unable to participate in activities we have used in the past to relieve stress such as traveling or working out in the gym.
Not surprisingly, health workers were also affected. This is first and foremost for me as we think about how to support our therapists at SonderMind. According to the same Prosper Insights & Analytics study, 26% of health workers are more anxious and 22% have become more depressed since the pandemic. Our approach to redesigning mental and behavioral health involves supporting SonderMind therapists so that they can focus on what they love: spending time providing high-quality care to clients.
The pandemic also allowed us to better understand our mental health needs and the needs of our family and friends. We can recognize and treat anxiety and depression better than before. I believe that mental health care is the least invested area of health care, which has the greatest impact on our overall health and there is a lot of work that needs to be done to meet the needs of mental health in this country. I am incredibly grateful that people see SonderMind as the way to get the help they need in a timely and cost-effective way, and therapists continue to see how much SonderMind allows them to be their best clinical selves.
Drenik: Many of our readers here at Forbes are business leaders like you. How can leaders help address mental health in their organizations?
Frank: Talk about it. I encourage my leadership team to lead by example in caring for their own mental health and by constantly checking with their teams on how they are doing, both at home and at work. Instead of asking, “What’s up?” Ask, “How are you feeling today?” If you notice that they look stressed, say, “Is there anything I can do to support you?” Ask them to use your normal 1: 1 meeting time to walk together and breathe fresh air. There are simple things we can do that will make a big difference in improving mental health in the workplace.
Business leaders can also better educate their employees about the mental health benefits of their health plans, as all plans must offer the same level of mental health benefits as physical care. Leaders have a great responsibility to encourage their employees to take advantage of anything that could help improve their mental health, and they must make this a major goal in 2022.
Drenik: Thank you, Mark, for this insight and what you and the SonderMind team are doing to improve the way we treat and talk about mental health.