Ohio Addresses Mental Health Through Startups

Buckeye state startups lead the way on mental health initiatives

Today, 1 in 5 people have diagnosable mental illnesses with symptoms that often impact their daily lives. To help patients in need, many initiatives address these symptoms through a variety of behavioral and therapeutic techniques, utilizing everything from medicine to patient-facing apps. Thanks to a strong, innovative startup scene, Ohio in particular is revolutionizing the way doctors and patients engage in mental health awareness. We sat down with three prominent startups to talk cutting-edge solutions and learn about how Ohio is leading the way in mental health tech.

Erika Woodrum, CEO: SeeLife

TechOhio: How does your company address mental health?

Erika Woodrum: SeeLife addresses mental health through the gamification of biofeedback. Biofeedback is a practice where bio signals, such as heart rate, are shown to the user so they can learn how to consciously manipulate them. Benefits of heart rate biofeedback include reduced anxiety, increased focus, and the overall ability to perform even in adverse situations. It is a proven science and has been practiced since the 1960s, but is most often used for adults because of the required focus. SeeLife uses the power of gaming to make it accessible for children, because we believe that one degree of change early in a child’s life can have a major impact on their long-term trajectory.

TO: What do you hope technology will be able to do in the future to solve mental health crises?

EW: One of the unique ways we hope that technology can solve mental health problems is through gaming. If we can get children to voluntarily practice biofeedback as part of their curriculum in schools, it would be a great use of technology because it is like taking your brain to the gym. If children had an easier time learning how to cope with stressful situations, they may do better on tests or be less likely to succumb to peer pressure. Hopefully, technology can more often utilize the power of gaming to make mental health practices accessible for children, such as biofeedback in the classroom.

TO:How does technology/innovation play a role in how we adapt to mental health needs?

EW:Biofeedback is very similar to meditation, only it uses technology for an even deeper connection to the user’s state. It is especially beneficial to those who are visual learners.

TO: Why is Ohio a leader in this field? How has the state helped find solutions and increase awareness for mental health?

EW: Ohio is a leader in a cultural shift in education about mental illness. The 2019 Strategic Plan for Education focuses on “the whole child” and includes a new learning domain, called Social Emotional Learning (SEL). The key areas of SEL are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making. What this means is that academic leadership realizes that emotional intelligence is just as important to teach in schools as math and science. The Collaborative Association for Social Emotional Learning (CASEL) puts out reports of studies done over the past two decades on SEL and its impact on children’s lives, and the effect on the economy. Data shows that a focus on SEL in early childhood education leads to decreased dropout rates, school and classroom behavior issues, drug use, teen pregnancy, mental health problems, and criminal behavior.

Raj Gupta, Co-founder: FindLocalTreatment

TechOhio: How does your company address mental health?

Raj Gupta: FindLocalTreatment helps people find quality, evidence-based addiction and mental health treatment providers based on insurance and real-time availability. We partner with health systems to help them transition patients to longer term care after they have been screened for SUDs inside the emergency department. Specifically, the FLT platform is integrated inside 15 major emergency departments across the state to help clinicians, nurses, and care coordinators transition patients to treatment providers that have real-time availability. 

TO: How does technology/innovation play a role in how we adapt to mental health needs?

RG: Technology definitely plays a role. It can help us identify mental health issues faster and expand access to quality care sooner. While we focus on the latter, there is a lot that can be done to help our communities understand what mental health issues can look like, and how to assess them.

TO: Why is Ohio a leader in this field? How has the state helped find solutions and increase awareness for mental health?

RG: Ohio has invested many resources in the addiction and mental health space over the last few years. Through statewide innovation challenges and the Governor’s RecoveryOhio Advisory Council, the state is making a concerted push to find and invest in technologies proven to help our communities.

TO: What changes do you see in the future for the healthcare / mental health field? Why are these necessary?
RG: One change that we already see happening is the integration of addiction treatment and mental health treatment. Today, many treatment providers focus on addiction treatment or mental health treatment. However, the rise of co-occurring diagnoses is telling us that patients that are suffering from the chronic disease of addiction, often have other mental health issues that need to be addressed as well. Providers in our communities will need to add or modify their treatment programming and modalities to treat co-occurring disorders.

Another change that we must continue to push for is strong enforcement of mental health parity in the state of Ohio. Mental health parity requires the equal treatment of mental health and substance use disorders in insurance companies. Before this law passed as part of the ACA in 2008, mental health treatment was covered at lower levels than physical illness. While this is the law, the enforcement and the quality of mental health coverage can largely vary, which puts patients at risk. Our community deserves to have quality mental health and addiction treatment care, and we must continue to push politicians to require this from insurers.

SeeLife is currently a member of the new Product Development Accelerator at Bounce Innovation Hub, a partner of Ohio Third Frontier.

FindLocalTreatment participated in “Hacking Heroin” hosted by Cintrifuse, a partner of Ohio Third Frontier.

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