In the COVID-19 era, this mental health startup wants users to feel relief
Across the world, the “new normal” created by COVID-19 has caused a ripple effect for mental health.
While specific groups — like aging adults, those with chronic or mental health conditions and frontline workers — are at an increased risk for worsening mental health, the combination of uncertainty and prolonged social and physical isolation can put anyone at risk. In a poll conducted by KFF, nearly half of American adults surveyed reported a negative impact on their mental health. Mental health crisis centers are also reporting increased call volume since the onset of the pandemic — and in some regions, centers have seen an increase as high as 300 percent. Digital mental health startup and MATTER member, Sentio Solutions, is doing their part to ensure that everyone gets the mental health care they need.
“Mental health will continue to be one of the most immediate threats to society — and even to business and the economy — during this crisis and also as we adapt to the new normal,” said Maria Arvanitidou, corporate development and partnerships lead at Sentio Solutions, in a recent interview. “More than ever before, we need to protect our mental health as individuals and as a collective.”
“Mental health will continue to be one of the most immediate threats to society — and even to business and the economy — during this crisis and also as we adapt to the new normal.”
Sentio Solutions is a San Francisco-based company focused on biomarkers and digital therapeutics that help diagnose, manage and care for people who struggle with mental health. Sentio’s core offering, the Feel Program, combines a proprietary emotion sensor, based on remote monitoring technology, with cognitive behavioral therapy and telehealth. The company recently launched a new version of their solution, built to specifically address the mental health challenges created by COVID-19, called Feel Relief.
A shift in emotional patterns
With much of the world’s population in some state of lockdown, the Feel team quickly realized the unique emotional impact of this new way of life.
Through the data gathered via Feel’s wearable emotion sensors, the platform was able to detect a radical shift in emotional patterns among users — allowing the Feel team to quantify how individuals’ mental health baselines changed once COVID-19, and lockdowns, were introduced as concepts into their lives.
Feel also saw an increasing number of people, who don’t have a mental health diagnosis or don’t normally struggle with mental health, reaching out in search of resources. “There’s this overwhelming need for immediate support and easier-to-access solutions to deal with new feelings of distress and anxiety,” Maria shared. “The right solutions can be really hard to find, especially for people who have never needed to navigate that system before.”
“There’s this overwhelming need for immediate support and easier-to-access solutions to deal with new feelings of distress and anxiety. The right solutions can be really hard to find, especially for people who have never needed to navigate that system before.”
Meeting the need for broader access
Previously, the flagship Feel Program could only be accessed through an insurer or employer — but the Feel team quickly realized the need to also provide a direct to consumer solution.
To address these needs, they launched Feel Relief: a four-week, fully remote support program designed to help anyone navigate their personal mental health throughout the pandemic and develop coping skills, resilience and better emotional habits.
The program includes access to mental health resources, an app to journal emotions and complete mental health exercises, and weekly online sessions with professional coaches. Coaches deliver guidance tailored to address the needs of each individual — from work-life balance and remote working, to issues with isolation, loneliness or relationships, to health anxiety and grief counseling. Participants can also be triaged to higher levels of support and longer term care for anxiety and depression.
Additionally, Feel recently announced that they are offering Feel Relief for free to female-owned small businesses in New York City. “Female entrepreneurs in New York City are under particularly severe stress,” said George Eleftheriou, CEO and co-founder of Sentio Solutions in a recent press release. “They are likely to be bootstrapping their business and carrying higher debt loads. As a small business ourselves, we want to do what we can to help.”
Coordinating efforts for a seamless experience
Maria shared that creating the variant of Feel’s core offering — and shifting their business model to include direct-to-consumer options — required a concerted effort from the entire team: “The major challenge, as it always is with small businesses, is resources. We needed to run a very coordinated program and marshall all of our resources to launch quickly and address the demand.”
Also, due to the increased need to treat people who may not have a clinical diagnosis or an existing mental health condition, the program needed to be rewired to fit the needs of everyone experiencing distress or other symptoms.
“We worked extremely hard to be able to launch quickly and ensure that we could provide a seamless experience to new users,” said Maria, “While maintaining a high standard of service for current users and business clients.”
Advice for others looking to pivot during Covid-19
When asked what advice she has for other startups considering a pivot, Maria encouraged them to be people-centric and put themselves in the user’s shoes, and to focus on creating a variety of offerings to meet evolving needs. “Don’t try and reinvent the wheel right now. Leverage your existing capabilities and build on the things you already do well.”
“We also focused on maintaining coordination and even heavier communication while everyone is working remotely,” Maria added. “That allowed for better coordination across product, engineering, marketing and commercial teams and had us all working in a more agile way than ever before.”
She also stressed the importance of staying true to your mission. For Feel, that means eliminating the suffering caused by mental health for as many people as possible. “When you focus on keeping that mission in mind, everything else comes pretty naturally.”
Maria’s final piece of advice: “Keep your team’s mental health — as well as your own — in check. Make sure that you provide your people with the resources they need to remain focused, productive and resilient during this challenging time.”
“Keep your team’s mental health — as well as your own — in check. Make sure that you provide your people with the resources they need to remain focused, productive and resilient during this challenging time.”
Learn more about the Feel Relief Program here.
The response of the MATTER community to COVID-19 has been overwhelming. See a full list of MATTER startups who are giving their solutions away for free, retooling their products to support health needs in a pandemic time and accelerating research into therapeutics and diagnostic tools here.