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How a tech startup is transforming mental health in the Philippines

By LAI S. REYES, The Philippine STAR Published Jan 25, 2021 4:00 pm Updated Jan 26, 2021 9:46 am

It’s truly okay to not be okay, especially in these uncertain times. Stricken on all levels—emotionally, physically, and financially—by the current pandemic, the mental health of Filipinos is perhaps in the most perilous state it has ever been.

The importance of having a sound mind is just as crucial as having a healthy body. And if nothing much is done about it, mental illness will definitely be the next pandemic.

“Sadly, it already is,” says Yuri Marshall, CEO and one of the founders of Mind You, a pioneer in preventive mental healthcare in the country. “I believe it is the underlying crisis amid the COVID-19 pandemic. People not only in the Philippines but around the world are suffering from unprecedented stress and mental illness brought about by the drastic legislative and law enforcement reaction to the COVID-19 outbreak.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that over six million Filipinos suffered from anxiety and depression in 2017, and these numbers may have doubled or tripled in 2020.

“People have been forced to live and work under unusual circumstances, which has become a real and urgent challenge in the area of mental health,” Marshall stresses. “If we don’t band together as a nation and make a collaborative effort to get our people’s minds back on the right track, then the post-pandemic economic recovery will be nearly impossible to overcome.”

“It has to start with people’s behaviors, emotions and biological understanding of how they can shift their mindset and redirect life in a positive direction,” adds Marshall, who knows whereof he speaks.

In late 2019, he had bouts with depression due to the rocky ending of a long-term relationship. “I was fortunate enough to be in Australia at the time, where mental health awareness is well established,” he relates. Marshall admits that he was suicidal at times.

“Thanks to easy access to mental health support, I was able to seek the necessary psychological help to deal with my depression and suicidal thoughts,” he adds.

 Mind You communications director Nikki Huang with Yuri Marshall, CEO

Mental healthcare access made easy 

Unlike Australia, the Philippines is far behind when it comes to treating mental health illnesses because it still is very much a taboo subject. The phrase “mental illness” tends to be used in a derogatory manner: “She must be mentally ill.” But we don’t talk about physical health that way. No one ever describes someone else by saying, “She’s physically ill.”

Believing that talking about how to better care for yourself and your mental health shouldn’t be offensive, four like-minded individuals—Yuri Marshall, Cameron Quin, Michael Needham, and Mark Pagal—banded together to form a mental health technology company that provides businesses—and soon, individuals—with unlimited access to preventive therapy sessions with licensed local psychologists, using a personalized dashboard.

 Ben Arnold, chief of staff

Aptly called Mind You, this startup company aims to create happier, healthier, and more productive people who live more fulfilled lives, break down stigmas, and make mental healthcare more accessible in the Philippines.

“The passage of the PH Mental Health Law just affirmed our belief that holistic mental healthcare’s relevance and importance should not be underestimated,” notes Ben Arnold, Mind You chief of staff. “That’s where the idea (for Mind You) came from.”

To comply with the PH Mental Health Law, companies are required to provide mental healthcare to employees. And so in 2019, the concept (Mind You) was initially introduced to an organization. Trials were conducted to see if the system would take off.

 Cameron Quin, chief coordinator

“It turned out that was the case. The team had a viable business model and a service organizations would pay for,” notes Cameron Quin, chief coordinator.

Mind You began building the model and hiring in February. By then a lot of intellectual property had been developed. On March 13, ECQ was implemented and there was a global lockdown by mid-April.

“By then we realized there were going to be adverse effects on mental health worldwide and that MindYou would go hand in hand with combatting this. The pandemic certainly accelerated the significance and impact of the company,” shares Arnold.

Mind You’s Advisory Board is made up of local and international psychologists, as well as corporate data analysts specializing in mental health.

“When it started, Mind You focused on enterprise clients, in which employees are given access to professional help subsidized by their employers,” explains Nikki Huang, communications director, Mind You. Marshall sees this strategy as the solution to breaking down the biggest barriers to accessing mental health services for the average Pinoy — cost.

When it comes to mental health, there’s a fear that talking about prevention somehow implies that people with mental illness are at fault for their struggles.

Partners in health

Mind You will be servicing the larger population in the first half of 2021 through its partnership with Ayala Corporation’s HealthNow app, an all-in-one digital platform that serves as an alternative channel for patients to access primary healthcare without leaving their homes.

“Mind You and HealthNow’s partnership solidifies our common commitment to provide Filipinos across the Philippines with easy access to online tele-healthcare, including mental health counseling,” enthuses Marshall.

HealthNow users aren’t only able to access prescriptions, online consultations, and laboratory appointments from the safety of their homes; they are also able to speak with licensed psychologists to better deal with their mental health issues — depression, anxiety and burnout — that have all become too common amid the pandemic.

“We are both excited to launch this partnership with Mind You, as we both strive to allow every Filipino easy access to primary care and holistic wellbeing, particularly mental health,” says Beia Latay, CEO of HealthNow.

“I encourage everyone to put your mental health first before anything else. If you do that, you can alleviate most of life’s pressures and realign your body in a positive direction,” adds Marshall.

Marshall hopes that Filipinos can approach any mental health stresses or illnesses just like a physical illness or injury, and seek help when needed. “Seek help now if you must. Don’t wait for things to become dire,” Marshall adds.

HealthNow is available in Google Play and App Store. 

Banner and thumbnail photo by Francisco Moreno on Unsplash