With the sharp decline of mental health across America in the past few years, the behavioral health space has been ripe for innovation. One company that has been at this forefront before the pandemic even began is Denver-based SonderMind. I recently sat down 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 of mental health looks like and how leaders can better support their employees during this difficult time.
Gary Drenik: Since the Covid-19 pandemic started, it seems like there are now countless mental health companies. What are you doing differently at SonderMind to help improve mental health across the country?
Mark Frank: We started SonderMind before the pandemic with a simple but comprehensive mission: to redesign behavioral health to improve access, utilization, and outcomes. Of course, the pandemic changed everything: from a business perspective, we had to quickly transition to offering virtual therapy, and from a societal perspective, we have seen a welcome reduction in stigma in seeking mental healthcare. The pandemic gave us all a greater understanding of the importance of mental health because we saw those health challenges in our families, our coworkers, and ourselves. And many of us started to realize that mental health and physical health are one in the same.
We take a comprehensive approach to providing high-quality mental healthcare at SonderMind. We take an individualized approach to care that starts with using innovative technology to help people not just find a therapist, but find the right, in-network therapist for them. We offer both in-person as well as virtual options for care from therapists who are committed to delivering best-in-class care to all individuals by focusing on high-quality clinical outcomes. In fact, we’ve researched our use of measurement-based care, demonstrating that SonderMind’s system of clinical questionnaire engagement leads to better therapeutic outcomes. We enable our therapists to thrive by defining care expectations while providing tools such as clinical notetaking, secure telehealth capabilities, outcome measurement, messaging, and direct booking. We also have our eye on the future of mental healthcare and how we can make it even more uniquely tailored to each individual, leveraging AI/ML technologies to better understand how to advance effective treatments.
Drenik: What are the current problems with the healthcare system that you are trying to solve?
Frank: I take the phrase “redesigning behavioral health” literally. We are undertaking the herculean task of fixing systemic problems within 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 have said that reducing stigma in seeking care was another priority. Now that we have seen a reduction in stigma thanks to the challenges of the pandemic and many high-profile public conversations about mental health, I see three main challenges that we are up against. First, the separation of physical and mental health that needs to be eliminated. For too long, the two systems have been treated separately, despite the fact that mental and physical health are inextricably intertwined. Second, there needs to be more focus on prevention techniques to improve mental wellness. And finally, mental, and behavioral healthcare is suffering a lack of objective data to diagnose issues and measure efficacy of care models. At SonderMind, we are trying to fix these problems, and others, through our integrated, supportive, objective, and comprehensive approach to delivering high-quality care to individuals.
Drenik: I read that SonderMind recently acquired Qntfy, a company that takes a data driven approach to mental health. What does it mean to use data in a patient’s mental health treatment?
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 willingly provide to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of your therapeutic journey. Bringing Qntfy into SonderMind is a huge step in helping us achieve this. Leveraging innovative AI/ML technology, we are exploring delivering end-to-end journeys that can be uniquely tailored to anyone, with the goal of leading the industry in helping individuals greatly benefit from long-term solutions to mental health needs.
Drenik: The Covid-19 pandemic created a mental health crisis across the nation. Why do you think this was and do you think things are any better today?
Frank: According to a recent Prosper Insights & Analytics Survey, nearly 23% of Americans have become more anxious and 18% have become more depressed since the pandemic. And while these numbers are incredibly frustrating, I believe we were facing a mental health crisis here in the US far before the pandemic, and Covid-19 brought it to the forefront. Every part of our lives was put under stress, and on top of that, we were isolated in our homes away from our traditional support systems and unable to engage in the activities that we had historically used to eliminate stress like traveling or working out at a gym.
Not surprisingly, health care workers were impacted, as well. This is top of mind for me as we think about how to support our therapists at SonderMind. According to the same Prosper Insights & Analytics Survey, 26% of healthcare workers are more anxious and 22% have become more depressed since the pandemic. Our approach to redesigning mental and behavioral health includes supporting SonderMind therapists so they can focus on doing what they love: spending time delivering 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 relate to anxiety and depression better than before. I believe mental health care is the most underinvested area of health care that has the biggest impact on our overall health, and there is a lot of work to be done to meet the mental health needs in this country. I’m incredibly grateful that people are seeing SonderMind as the avenue to get the help they need in a timely and cost-effective manner and therapists are continuing to see just how much SonderMind enables them to be their best clinical self.
Drenik: A lot of our readers here at Forbes are business leaders like yourself. How can leaders help address mental health in their organizations?
Frank: Talk about it. I encourage my leadership team to lead by example in taking care of their own mental health and by continually checking in 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 out, say, “Is there anything I can do to support you?” Ask them to use your normal 1:1 meeting time to go for a walk together and get some fresh air. There are simple things we can do that will make a big difference on improving mental health in the workplace.
Business leaders also can better educate their employees on the mental health benefits of their health plans, as all plans are required to offer the same level of benefits for mental healthcare as they do for physical care. Leaders have a great responsibility to encourage their employees to take advantage of anything that could help improve their mental health and need to make this a top-of-mind goal in 2022.
Drenik: Thank you Mark for that insight and what you and the team at SonderMind are doing to improve how we treat and talk about mental health.