My Passion for Mental Health

By Alejandro Foung

By the time my cousin was finally diagnosed with schizophrenia, his symptoms were so severe that he was in residential treatment centers for long stretches of time. I was already interested in mental health and had studied psychology in college, but this personal experience made me realize I wanted to address the key barriers that prevent people from getting the help they need.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), every year one in four Americans – over 61 million people – suffer from a mental illness. Sadly, a majority of those people don’t ever obtain help. Despite effective treatments, there are shockingly long delays between the first appearance of symptoms and when people get help. This is exactly what I saw in my cousin’s case.

I met Nick LeTourneau when we worked together for the same startup technology company. I learned he had lost his brother to depression and suicide. Two years ago and many discussions later, we quit our technology jobs and set off to start our own company, which we believed could have given Nick’s brother a chance at recovery.

We saw three main barriers to accessing traditional therapy: lack of easy access, cost and the stigma around mental illness. Lantern, the online emotional wellness company Nick and I founded, not only assists people in overcoming their emotional challenges, but also helps them build resilience against anxiety, depression and stress.

It is our desire to reduce the stigma around receiving mental health care so that people will more readily seek the help they need when they need it. Ideally, this should occur soon after they first experience an abnormal change in mood or other symptoms. We believe immediate action will prevent a more disruptive degree of mental disturbance from taking hold.

In the case of anxiety, we have noted that being super-stressed has becoming a badge of honor in some circles. College students collectively complain or brag about being overwhelmed by final exams and pulling all-nighters. Adults use the word “busy.” Some even brag about how little sleep they need to keep up their overly active lifestyle. But stress, anxiety, feeling overwhelmed and not getting enough sleep may seriously impact your physical and mental health. There continues to be a societal stigma around mental illness that prevents people from seeking the help they need, despite a somewhat nonchalant attitude towards stress, anxiety and depression.

Because Lantern is private and easily accessible anywhere, it offers a convenient way for people who are stressed at work, dealing with social anxiety or struggling with depression or body image to improve their emotional strength for as little as 25 dollars a month. We employ the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a proven method for effectively treating several mental illnesses. We adapted CBT techniques to online and daily mobile 15-minute sessions. These sessions make improving mental health more accessible and less expensive than traditional therapy.

A daily session might be anything from information on the principles of CBT – the thoughts, behaviors and feelings cycle – to an audio lesson on mindfulness to a guided deep-breathing technique. There are also interactive tools that identify anxiety triggers and reframe automatic thoughts and worries. By regularly practicing these skills, clients continue to improve their emotional resilience and keep their minds in shape for whatever life throws at them.

Each session builds on the last, helping clients form healthy emotional habits as they improve their ability to cope with anxiety and stress. Because sessions are only 15 minutes long, clients can easily find time to access them on their morning commute, at lunch or before bed.

It can be difficult to stay on track with any new program. It’s also challenging to make extensive changes in the way you handle emotions, but it’s definitely feasible. As clients begin the program, we pair them with a professional coach. Clients may exchange an unlimited number of messages with coaches for day-to-day advice, motivation or guidance.

We are already seeing positive results from clients who have significantly decreased their symptoms with our online support. We have found that Lantern’s results are comparable to in-person CBT therapeutic outcomes. We’re not focused on quick fixes. We help people build emotional resilience – one day at a time.

Alejandro Foung is the cofounder and CEO of Lantern, an online and mobile emotional health company offering personalized programs based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). He is committed to creating products that make strengthening emotional health more affordable, accessible and engaging. He held early and founding roles at e-commerce companies, NexTag, Trulia, and Huddler. The Lantern program may be accessed at golantern.com.

 

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