🧠 Finding Nirvana

The latest on the business of mental health and wellness

Welcome to On The Mind, a collection of stories, news, and analyses on the startups, investors, and thought leaders in mental health and wellness.

Join 550+ humans exploring the business of the mind:

Here’s what’s included in issue No. 13:

  • Building a simplified billing engine for mental healthcare

  • Understanding how caffeine ☕️ affects the brain

  • Enroll in a free course from Yale on “the science of wellbeing”

🎙️ Interview with Akshay Venkitasubramanian, Co-Founder and CEO of Nirvana Health

Conversations with founders, investors, and thought leaders in mental health and wellness.

Akshay Venkitasubramanian co-founded Nirvana Health in 2019 with Kelvin Chan (President & CPO) and Urvish Parikh (CTO). According to Akshay, Nirvana Health is “making high-quality mental health affordable and accessible by bringing the power of fintech to the administration of health insurance.”

In other words, we hear about the problem of accessibility in mental health quite a lot, and Nirvana is chipping away at one of the biggest contributors: the convoluted financials happening in the background. A lot of times the accessibility conversation focuses on the problem of not having enough providers to meet the demand for mental health services. While that’s true, Nirvana is focusing on one of the (several) drivers of that imbalance, creating an easy-to-use billing engine for mental healthcare that makes life easier for providers and offers more transparency to consumers.

Tell me a bit about your background. How did you decide to start Nirvana?

I basically grew up in the world of healthcare transformation. I started off consulting for Deloitte, where I was working with clients who were reorganzing for the changes of the Accountable Care Act. Following Deloitte, I moved to Remedy Partners, where I dove deeper into bundled payments. After that I found myself at Mt. Sinai, where I really started to immerse myself in Value-Based Care (VBC) payments. Not just learning the financial side, but also the clinical, operational, and patient experience components.

I noticed demand for mental healthcare was growing and looked into building a mental health network with my co-founders. We realized that the majority of therapists are not set up to work with insurance, and that they don’t want to work with insurance. Nirvana was born out of this - my co-founder was automating KYC systems and had the insight that the same philosophy could be applied to filing healthcare claims. Since starting Nirvana, we’ve been working to simplify the entire billing process with this in mind.

Do you consider yourself a fintech company or a mental health company? What problem is Nirvana really solving?

At our core we’re a healthcare company that’s powered by fintech innovations.

This feels like a good opportunity for a story from when I was growing up in India. My father started off in the lowest rungs of banking, as a clerk and manager in rural Indian banks. His job was to open up a branch, at a time with no WiFi and little electricity. Shopkeepers had credit card copy machines they would use to swipe cards, and they would come by the bank in the afternoons where my dad’s job was to check the credit cards to see which purchases were valid and which weren’t.

Technology has completely changed this outdated model - this job moved to companies like Square and Stripe. No longer are customers walking out of shops with items unless they have the balance to pay, and that’s all verified on the spot. Insurance processing needs the same upgrade. It hasn’t been digitized for far too long, and at Nirvana, we’re digitizing it end-to-end. This is solving problems across the board, for providers, consumers, and payers.

On the provider side, we stitch together payments, sending a clean monthly report of which sessions have been paid and which have not so that they can practice with peace of mind.

For consumers, we give them the same digital experience they’re used to receiving in any other industry. When they swipe out of a Nirvana session, they get charged almost exactly the right amount - we check their claim accumulator to see if they’ve hit their deductible, and check their co-payment if they didn’t. They know right then and there what they owe, at the point of service.

For payers, we help improve the satisfaction of the products that they offer. Consumers use their benefits with ease, and providers are happy because insurance is working smoother - the better transaction system leads to happier providers and more satisfied members, and that positive experience is attributed to the payer.

Yes, we offer a fintech solution, but we very purposefully chose mental health as our first specialty to launch with, specifically individual adult psychotherapy. Mental health is probably the space where billing systems are hardest to use and most antiquated. It’s a space where bills add up quickly, and providers and consumers alike are acutely aware of the painpoints. And consumers are actively involved in the mental health care model, which means we’ll get access to great feedback in the product development process.

What have you figured out about your customers, and how has that informed how you build the business?

Since our launch, a big revelation for us has been that billing and insurance operations is a problem not just for small providers, but large enterprises and groups. We expected to focus primarily on small providers who wanted to incorporate our technology solution to reduce repetitive tasks, but we’re seeing a huge amount of traction with larger players as well dealing with the same billing problems but on a magnified scale.

This has shifted how we think about developing our product a bit. Many large provider groups are building their own electronic medical records (EMRs), which has led us to focus on creating an API-based service that enables these providers to plug Nirvana’s billing capabilities directly into their workflows.

There has also been a lot of good investment in mental health-focused EMRs in more recent years - therapy notes are getting a good challenge from companies like Osmind and SonderMind. One of these new mental health EMRs will dominate the space eventually if they’re built with the right intentions and provide support for psychiatry in a structured way. We consider EMRs to be partners - everybody needs to interact with insurance, and unless you’re 100% focused on it, you won’t build the best service.

Who do you consider your main competition? What do you think about companies like Headway?

We basically consider Square to be our biggest competitor. They power most of the interfaces for payments we receive, and we’ve been going up and replacing them.

We expect to see more billing companies (such as Kareo and Trizetto) become competitors as we scale to payers and digital health companies.

Headway is a virtual care network builder that we see more as a partner. They’re building good mental healthcare networks, and we see ourselves as being able to help them service those networks. We have providers onboarded with Nirvana who also use Headway.

How do you expect mental healthcare to change in the next 5-10 years? How will Nirvana play a role in that?

Mental health is moving from something akin to a gym membership (something you have to pay out of pocket for), to something an employer considers essential and will pay for.

I think this will have some good effects on the overall payer landscape - better medical coverage and more reimbursements for mental healthcare.

I think we’ll also see much better care coordination across medical and pharmaceutical needs for mental health. I’m personally very passionate about addiction care and how that evolves. C3 HealthcareRx is a great example of this - I love the way they’ve reinvented medication-assisted therapy by bringing it closer to the consumer at the point of service with their PCP.

Our aspiration is to make the transaction system around the consumer as seamless as possible for any healthcare service they get, which means expanding beyond mental health eventually. For Nirvana, this means we’ll be scaling our platform, both for the larger enterprises and to support solo or small group providers.

Can you walk through your latest raise and how you plan to allocate the funds? What’s your biggest challenge now that your Series Seed is closed?

Absolutely. We raised about $4.2M led by Eniac Ventures and Arc Ventures. There’s so much money out there - it was really important to us to find the right partners. We liked that both Eniac and Arc have made early bets in disruptive markets in the past, and that they have access to really strong fintech communities.

When it comes to allocating our funds, half is going straight to engineering talent. We have a lot of demand for plugging into large groups’ existing workflows and we need engineers to deliver on this. We’re also putting a good amount toward other aspects of the product design and management.

The biggest challenge for us now is the radical prioritization of the features we build. We’ve got some customers of 1 and some customers of 1000, and different customers request different features. We’ve got limited resources and time, so I’ve been spending a lot of energy on prioritizing our product roadmap to show we are constantly enabling the maximum value. We prioritize by having monthly discussions with different customer segments, workshopping our product roadmap, collecting feedback, and making the necessary tweaks as we go.

🩺 Clinical Coverage

Discussion of clinical concepts, studies, or perspectives on mental health and wellbeing.

Michael Pollan came out with a new book last month, This Is Your Mind on Plants, and while I haven’t yet read it, I’ve listened to a couple of his podcast appearances where he gets into some of the details.

He covers a variety of ways that humans have used plants to change their consciousness, but his overview of caffeine specifically caught my attention since I admittedly and shamelessly have a deep addiction.

I drink probably 3 cups of coffee a day on average, which with a little bit of quick maths equates to ~550 pounds of liquid that I’m putting in my body annually, without really understanding how it affects my mind.

And I’m not alone - “caffeine is the most widely consumed central-nervous-system stimulant.” To learn more I turned back to my trusted source for digestible clinical concepts, the 2-Minute Neuroscience YouTube channel.

In summary:

  • Caffeine belongs to a class of compounds called Methylxanthines

  • Caffeine is an antagonist at the adenosine receptor, and its primary mechanism of action which promotes wakefulness is attributed to interaction with the A2A receptor subtype

  • Typically, the adenosine receptor prompts GABA release (GABA was covered in the last issue of On The Mind here), which supports sleep, but the introduction of caffeine opposes this action, promoting arousal instead

For a deeper dive on caffeine’s effect on human behavior, check out this paper.

💰 Recent Investments, Acquisitions, and IPOs

Rundown of recent investment news in mental health and wellness companies.

📖 Interesting Reads

Sometimes mental health-related. Sometimes just things I find interesting.

  • Back to getting shamed for my coffee addiction, by Michael Pollan. The Guardian

  • The role of digital tools in employee mental health. McKinsey

  • Building an arctic vault of humanity’s most important music. Input Mag

  • “Speaking” after a decade of silence, thanks to neurotech. WSJ

  • Tech hubs outside of Silicon Valley (and the US). Rest of World

  • Interesting profile of the man behind mushroom company MycoWorks. Alta

  • Epic bird pics. Make sure to check out the hawk video. Audubon

  • More evidence that walking is good for your brain. NYTimes

  • I’m looking for a new cult to join if you have any recs. The New Yorker

  • Viewing the world through the lens of Olympic medals. NPR

  • Zuckerberg’s plans for the Metaverse. The Verge

  • The morally questionable hustle for the title of youngest grandmaster. NYTimes

  • Athletes and mental health. David Epstein

  • The FDA approves its first human study for brain chip implants. Input Mag

  • America’s mental health moment. Vox

  • If anything is going to make me sign-up for Paramount+, this is it (still won’t). Bloomberg

  • The pending infrastructure bill’s implications for crypto. TechCrunch

  • Travis Kalanick’s secretive dark kitchens. Sifted

  • A look at how Coronavirus changed how we spend our time. FlowingData

  • The impressive evolution of AI-generated art. Berkeley

🧠 Mindfulness Tip of the Week

Tips to improve your mental health and wellbeing.

Full disclosure - after a year of virtual MBA, I’m not personally in the market for another virtual class, so I haven’t tried this one personally. That said, a friend recommended Yale’s “The Science of Wellbeing,” which is one of the most popular Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) on Coursera.

With nearly 3.5 million learners and a 4.9 out of 5 stars from over 27,000 reviewers, they’re clearly on to something.

For those looking for a little bit more structure and guidance in their wellbeing practices, this free 10-week course seems like a good option. You can start it when it’s convenient for you and complete it at your own pace.

Here’s the syllabus:

  1. Introduction

  2. Misconceptions About Happiness

  3. Why Our Expectations are so Bad

  4. How Can We Overcome Our Biases

  5. Stuff that Really Makes Us Happy

  6. Putting Strategies into Practice

  7. Start Your Final Rewirement Challenge

  8. Continue Your Rewirement Challenge

  9. Continue Your Rewirement Challenge

  10. Submit Your Final Assignment

If you end up registering or have enrolled in the past, let me know what you think.

On Your Mind

Email me at tarockoff@berkeley.edu with any reactions to the newsletter.

If you’re working on something in mental health and wellness, let’s talk. You can book some time with me here.

Know someone who’d enjoy On The Mind?

Share On The Mind

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Written by Daniel Tarockoff, an MBA student at UC Berkeley and former healthcare strategy consultant exploring the future of mental health. Born in Michigan. Based in Berkeley, CA.

🧠 Chew On This

The latest on the business of mental health and wellness

Welcome to On The Mind, a collection of stories, news, and analyses on the startups, investors, and thought leaders in mental health and wellness.

Join 500+ humans exploring the business of the mind:

Here’s what’s included in issue No. 12:

  • Managing stress, anxiety, and overwhelm with a chewable solution

  • A deeper look into GABA, a neurotransmitter in the brain

  • Reframing the to-do list to focus on what to avoid

🎙️ Interview with Zak Williams, Co-Founder and CEO of Prepare Your Mind (PYM)

Conversations with founders, investors, and thought leaders in mental health and wellness.

Many people were affected by the surprising death of the late Robin Williams nearly 7 years ago. In addition to being a household name as a comedian and actor, he was a father, and that loss was much more personal for his son Zak.

After his father’s death, Zak struggled with anxiety and depression and turned to alcohol to cope. Through his own healing process, he found purpose in his role as a mental health advocate and went on to build Prepare Your Mind (PYM), a company looking to create an accessible consumer product that can prevent mental health breakdowns. PYM, whose first product is a “mood chew,” supports feelings of stress, anxiety, and overwhelm with an adaptogen and amino acid-packed citrus-flavored chewable. 🍋

It seems like you do a lot - an investor, entrepreneur, advocate. Could you talk a bit about your role in the mental health space?

I was diagnosed with PTSD after my dad died by suicide, and was experiencing a lot of issues with anxiety and depression. That’s originally what led me to do a lot of work on the advocacy side in the mental health space.

Career-wise I had stints at EA and Condé Nast, but mostly I’ve worked in the world of entrepreneurship and startups. I’m a student of the school of figuring shit out. I just immersed myself into it all and started talking to people. PYM is a mental health company, though it’s also in the consumer space.

When it comes to investing, I’m actually not sector-focused on mental health despite having some investments in the space. I’m primarily interested in consumer, with a limited focus on SaaS just because of my passion for machine learning. I was a computational linguistics major at NYU as an undergraduate which has played into that.

How has that shaped your investment philosophy and where you see opportunity?

I think a lot about ethical automation, for one. It’s an extremely important part of the next stage of software experiences. I’d rather see a future where technological extensions support people rather than making human labor obsolete.

Computers and software are exponentially powerful when it comes to certain applications, but I’m really interested in what happens when you add humans to the mix - working together it creates a multiplier.

The initial paradigm of capitalism was around wealth being most concentrated around those with a means of production. The question is, what’s the emerging paradigm? I have a set of assertions that the next wave of wealth will be concentrated around those with a means of automation. If you have an opportunity to surround yourself with those who create a democratized model of distributing the means of automation, you’re giving people a fighting chance as AI bleeds more into our everyday lives.

Interesting stuff. Though you ended up founding a company in the CPG space. Why’d you decide on building there for PYM?

CPG is less constricted from a distribution perspective. It’s easily accessible and we wanted a wide reach.

We also saw that there’s white space for mental health products on the prevention side. If you’re having a mental health issue, before you go and seek clinical support, it’s actually reasonably likely that there’s an imbalance you could fix before carpet bombing your whole system.

We’re a bit of a unique creature in that we don’t feel our product is a cure all. The CPG world provides a space for us to be a catalyst in pushing people into a mental health hygiene ritual. We really just want people to start thinking about mental health.

Got it. So let’s dig more into the company. Why’d you start PYM and what exactly are you building?

When I was at my low point I was self-medicating with alcohol which was not sustainable. If I took alcohol out of the situation though, I was extremely stressed and anxious and all I could find were artificial protocols as alternatives.

I created PYM to fill the space where I saw a gap for myself. We’re a mission-oriented advocacy-focused brand that provides products that are at the frontier of efficacy and safety. It started in 2019, which I spent formulating the actual chewable, and we launched our first product in early 2020.

We have an awesome team and people seem to like our product. We’re finding interesting use cases, such as people using the mood chews to ween off of anxiety medications like Valium and Xanax. We also have a broader vision than just the mood chews - we’re looking to provide the inputs to an experiential therapeutic protocol that goes beyond what’s standard today. We’re in the process of creating a companion app, for example, which will serve to provide some diagnostics as well as be a community hub. A potential future treatment option might be a mix of PYM chewables, software, and therapy. We’ll also be working on clinical studies, and are in the process of establishing PYM as a medical food, which would then allow a doctor to prescribe our product for a given disease state, and insurance companies to provide reimbursement.

What's actually in the mood chews?

We worked with a food scientist to develop the chews, which interact primarily with the endocrine system focused on the GABA system, with secondary interactions with the serotonin and dopamine systems.

There are three core active ingredients in the original formulation. GABA, a naturally occuring neurotransmitter in the brain, which helps you better modulate information and manage anxiety and overwhelm. L-Theanine, which interacts with the brain’s default mode network, reducing rumination, future tripping, and anxiety. And then Rhodiola, a natural neuroprotective compound, which helps the body manage stress and anxiety.

What’s a misconception you think people have about mental health?

Historically, a lot of people have thought about mental health as taking care of a condition. I’m anxious, so I take Valium. I have trauma, so I go to therapy.

I’m an advocate for a more systems-based approach. It’s not about fixing one symptom and moving on. I think as we better understand the individual as a system, we’ll see that different levels of that system require different levels of support. People are beginning to warm up to this idea rather than taking a curative lens, but I think it’s still a large misconception today.

Do you have any advice for founders in the mental health space?

First and foremost, you need to talk to as many people as you can.

And if you’re starting a company, you need to understand what the actual needs of your customers are so that you’re solving a real problem. Which goes back to the first point on talking to as many people as possible.

When you get more specific with mental health founders, I think it’s important to understand the economics of the supply side, especially when you rely on clinical support. How many psychiatrists or therapists or other clinicians do you need to deliver high-quality care, and how much time is needed to support each individual? How are telehealth experiences changing those dynamics?

To me the two most important pieces to the future of mental health are parity when it comes to accessing high quality care, and precision-oriented care that’s more targeted and effective. Founders in the space will find opportunity by addressing those areas while also getting creative and bringing something new to the world.

🩺 Clinical Coverage

Discussion of clinical concepts, studies, or perspectives on mental health and wellbeing.

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger, in the brain. It blocks specific signals in the central nervous system, slowing down the brain. This provides a protective and calming effect on the brain and body.”

As with many supplements, the benefits of GABA supplements remain a topic of debate, and it’s unclear whether the positive effects people experience are driven more by the placebo effect than the GABA itself.

A systematic review of oral GABA administration studies on stress and sleep in humans looked for existing experimental evidence. The findings showed some support for stress reduction and very limited support for improved sleep. Of nearly 6,000 publications reviewed, the researchers whittled it down to just 14 studies that met their inclusion criteria examining the consumption of natural or biosynthetic GABA and its effects on stress or sleep in humans. The outcomes of those 14 studies can be found here for those interested in digging deeper.

So, it’s still up for debate whether GABA supplements actually reduce stress or improve sleep, but the underlying mechanism by which GABA interacts with GABAa and GABAb receptors is well understood. And to explain it far better than I ever could, here’s a video from 2-minute neuroscience:

In short, GABA tells our neurons to chill out. Increased GABA activity reduces the chance a neuron fires an action potential, resulting in sedative, calming effects.

💰 Recent Investments, Acquisitions, and IPOs

Rundown of recent investment news in mental health and wellness companies.

📖 Interesting Reads

Sometimes mental health-related. Sometimes just things I find interesting.

  • How do you compare to the average person? Than Average

  • A day in the life of a flavor scientist. BBC

  • Visualizing how what we eat has changed. FlowingData

  • Not just Winter Blues, now there’s Summertime Sadness. NYTimes

  • How to design a better body. GQ

  • Looking into the social media cryptocurrency, BitClout. The New Yorker

  • Always willing to buy into the belief that coffee is good for you ☕️. NYTimes

  • Deep dive into the history of house music. Beatportal

  • In celebration of ‘Dave’ Season 2, here’s a profile of Lil Dicky. GQ

  • Pretty brutal stories from Airbnb visits, and the team responsible for keeping it quiet. Bloomberg

  • Calm - the app that monetized doing nothing. The Atlantic

  • Extraneural resources challenge where the bounds of our own minds and thought processes really are. NYTimes

  • What happens when someone wins a $731M lottery in a small town? Washington Post

  • Following the money going into startups targeting addiction. Crunchbase

  • An interesting look inside MSCHF’s take on streetwear. Esquire

  • Finally, an explanation for why I’m not rich (yet). MIT Technology Review

  • OpenAI’s Codex is the GPT-3 for coding. The Verge

  • Joe Rogan’s continued rise. NYTimes

  • Peter Thiel’s $5B Roth IRA. ProPublica

🧠 Mindfulness Tip of the Week

Tips to improve your mental health and wellbeing.

This week’s tip is borrowed from Ness Labs’ Anne-Laure Le Cunff, author of an awesome newsletter called Maker Mind (check it out here).

Anne-Laure writes about a new mental model you can apply to improve your productivity: the opposite of a to-do list, a “not-to-do list.”

Developing your not-to-do list is an exercise that allows you to consciously avoid the tasks you consistently find yourself wasting time and energy on. “Generally, you want to add to your not-to-do list anything that is emotionally draining, out of your control, bad for your health, detrimental to your relationships with others, or has little impact on the value of your output.”

Here’s my own not-to-do list:

  1. Do not check your phone while you’re in bed (on waking up, or falling asleep).

  2. Do not schedule back-to-back Zoom meetings.

  3. Do not keep the Instagram app on your phone.

  4. Do not force yourself to complete something you start reading if it’s not good.

  5. Do not make plans if you’re not excited about them.

  6. Do not worry (too much) about spending money if it’s an investment in your health or happiness.

For more guidance, check out Anne-Laure’s original post here.

On Your Mind

Email me at tarockoff@berkeley.edu with any reactions to the newsletter.

If you’re working on something in mental health and wellness, let’s talk. You can book some time with me here.

Know someone who’d enjoy On The Mind?

Share On The Mind

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Written by Daniel Tarockoff, an MBA student at UC Berkeley and former healthcare strategy consultant exploring the future of mental health. Born in Michigan. Based in Berkeley, CA.

🧠 The Robot Will See You Now

The latest on the business of mental health and wellness

Welcome to On The Mind, a collection of stories, news, and analyses on the startups, investors, and thought leaders in mental health and wellness.

Here’s what’s included in issue No. 11:

  • How conversational AI can be applied to tackle mental health at scale

  • The power of honesty, even from robots

  • Promoting small talk, in-person, with real human beings

🎙️ Interview with Alison Darcy, Founder and President of Woebot

Conversations with founders, investors, and thought leaders in mental health and wellness.

I recently spoke with Alison Darcy, who in addition to founding Woebot, is a PhD, clinical research psychologist, software developer, Stanford lecturer, and repeat entrepreneur.

Alison founded Woebot in 2017, and it has since grown to over 50 employees, has over 4,000 5-star reviews, and exchanges millions of messages every week, with a 98.9% accuracy rate in detecting when a user is going through a crisis. With the well-documented shortage of mental healthcare providers, can a ‘robot’ like Woebot help people manage their mental health?

Can you walk me through your background and how you came to start Woebot?

I initially got into the mental health field with a focus on eating disorders, though even that was something I accidentally found myself in. It was the dot com boom, and I went to London to work at an investment bank, where I taught myself how to code as a developer. It was a small American bank that got taken over by a Swiss bank, around ‘99 or 2000, when the internet was still fairly new.

Eating disorders were prominent, and there were networks of support groups, but the existing solutions weren’t sustainable. We built an online group to translate things to the internet. It was an interesting challenge to deconstruct what’s helpful about an in-person thing and reconstruct it in a digital way.

From there, I went to graduate school, continued researching eating disorders, and went on a treatment development track for several years, leading me to adolescent psychiatry. That’s when I started paying attention to what happens to patients once they return home - they don’t have anything. Therapy was becoming more of a mainstream model - this idea that if you empathize with someone, they get better. In reality, therapy is much more complex.

I was getting deeper into the field, working with larger data sets, and eventually called Andrew Ng to be on one of my grants. We hit it off and collaborated, and I went on to run Andrew’s Health Innovation Lab in Computer Science at Stanford.

A lot was converging to nudge me out of academia and launch a company. It seemed the only way to make my work sustainable was to make a good product and turn it into a company. I did a stint at Stanford’s GSB where I participated in a program called Ignite, which gave me the language I needed to start Woebot.

What are the Woebot offerings today?

Woebot uses AI and NLP techniques that have the ability to form a therapeutic bond with users that leads to better outcomes. There’s a wide variation in sophistication of what we’re talking about when discussing AI - it’s simply a tool with good or bad uses. People are turning to their phones when they’re miserable, so we see that as a perfect opportunity to meet their needs.

We offer digital behavioral health products that address adult mental health, adolescent mental health, maternal mental health, and problematic substance abuse.

There’s something we call Woebot Live, which is our free baseline product. Woebot Live serves as our R&D engine where we gather data for our algorithms.

Then there are our prescription digital therapeutics (DTx), which are still being piloted and require high standards of clinical validation. These come down to whether you really believe software will eat the world, and if that applies to psychiatry. Psychiatry won’t be the fastest to adopt DTx, but almost everyone has a cell phone on them, which makes DTx a powerful solution. Behavioral health products are already being recommended by physicians in closed network payer groups, patients are using them, and they’re working.

We have three DTx in our pipeline: one for postpartum depression (which just received FDA breakthrough designation), one for adolescents with mild to moderate depression, and one for substance use disorder.

You mention the adolescent population specifically. We’re seeing more and more companies in the mental health space build products around specific segments, be it parents, teenagers, men, women, LGBTQ+, BIPOC, etc. - are distinct products necessary?

We built Woebot for adolescents to start with. Our first randomized controlled trial was with young adults.

What we discovered subsequently was it was appealing to so many people and the age range was much broader. We get a ton of emails form people in their 70s or 80s.

I think the products for distinct segments is more about choosing a beachhead, crossing the chasm, and doing one thing really, really well. Mental health is episodic, and we’ve been missing the longitudinal perspective for a really long time.

That’s how we try to design Woebot, even if we start with specific populations or points in time. People should be able to use Woebot for awhile, then stop, then come back and use it again, and have something that remembers what worked well last time. If you’re in an episode your brain doesn’t function as well as it does when you’re not, and you may need a friendly guide to show you that you still have the skills to cope, someone who sticks around through your life. This continuity allows for more relevant care - if you had a baby 6 months ago, you’re not just getting generic mindfulness tips, for example.

How does Woebot assess the user and actually figure out the right level of care someone needs?

Woebot is really good at meeting people where they’re at; we refer to it as the responsive layer. Some people need a little on the spot talking, some need a full course of therapy. As a conversation agent, Woebot asks people how they’re doing in a naturalistic sense, which captures data embedded in their lived experience. It lends itself well to shifting to whatever people bring to the table.

As far as identifying when someone needs what level of care, we use NLP algorithms for various specific tasks. That said, the best way to know how someone is doing is to just ask them. Someone conducted a principal component analysis to figure out the most predictive item possible, and it turns out that asking “how depressed have you been in the past 2 weeks?” is the best way to discern depression. Many in the field think of people with mental health issues as not being able to have insights. In reality, most people with depression or anxiety can actually just tell you how they’re doing if you ask.

Officially, depression and anxiety are psychiatric disorders, but these exist on a spectrum. Symptoms of depression and anxiety are something that all humans will go through at some point. In a fully comprehensive healthcare system, you don’t want to give everyone a highly-trained specialist, because not everyone needs one. A core element of Woebot is being as noninvasive as possible. In the US, we think of the gold standard as being high-quality therapy. Really, it’s offering the least invasive, lowest intensity care you can that still derives value and gets the patient to remission. It should be the easiest.

Who does Woebot serve today and where do you see it going?

Woebot is used by people of all ages, from 18-80+. About 55% of our users are female, 45% male. 94% of the world’s countries and territories are using Woebot.

Our consumer app is free. We monetize through partnerships with payers and big health systems. We’re in the DC Housing Authority and Ontario West. We want to continue expanding our reach and will keep working on our DTx pipeline, which we expect to begin commercializing in 2022.

Woebot is designed to be an untintimidating entry point. Wherever there’s a big challenge in reaching a lot of people, getting them well, and doing that at scale - that’s where I see Woebot continuing to grow.

🩺 Clinical Coverage

Discussion of clinical concepts, studies, or perspectives on mental health and wellbeing.

Using chatbots in mental healthcare is not new; the concept has long been criticized as a “wishful thinking” approach that can’t possibly have the same efficacy as human intervention. In a small study in 2019, Cambridge researchers found that, when compared to a human therapist control, chatbot-provided therapy was “less useful, less enjoyable, and their conversations less smooth.”

A recent study on digital conversational agents, using Woebot data, investigated whether users of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)-based conversational agents could create similar levels of therapeutic bonds to those established in other CBT-based modalities (e.g., face-to-face therapy, group CBT).

To test this, the study surveyed Woebot users with the Working Alliance Inventory-Short Revised (WAI-SR) test, which assigns a bond score between the user and Woebot. Data from over 36,000 Woebot users was included, and the average bond subscore for Woebot was 3.84, in a similar region to the average bond subscores for human-led individual CBT (4) and group CBT (3.8).

More interesting, Woebot performed stronger than other internet-based CBT conversational agents. Researchers speculate this is driven by the transparency embedded in Woebot’s design. While other chatbots attempt to seem like a real human, Woebot was built to do the opposite - to be unabashedly transparent. “Woebot explicitly references its limitations within conversations and provides positive reinforcement and empathic statements alongside declarations of being an artificial agent.”

In other words, because Woebot is honest about being a robot, it actually performs its job better.

💰 Recent Investments, Acquisitions, and IPOs

Rundown of recent investment news in mental health and wellness companies.

📖 Interesting Reads

Sometimes mental health-related. Sometimes just things I find interesting.

🧠 Mindfulness Tip of the Week

Tips to improve your mental health and wellbeing.

As in-person socializing returns, so does “small talk.” Inevitably, these kinds of conversations can feel inauthentic and forced.

After missing out on this for so long though, it might actually feel welcome. The Walrus goes so far as to say the recent lack of small talk is “breaking our brains.”

Small talk plays a role in helping us feel more connected and happier. Research has shown that a conversation with a stranger of 10-20 minutes can be beneficial.

So how can you bring more small talk into your life? This guide provides a few suggestions, including asking questions related to your immediate context, leaning on some go-to prepared questions, or bringing in knowledge of current events. The goal is to make a connection and actually get to know the person (so essentially, starting with small talk, but elevating it as you go).

When in doubt, turn to Larry David for some inspiration:

On Your Mind

Email me at tarockoff@berkeley.edu with any reactions to the newsletter.

If you’re working on something in mental health and wellness, let’s talk. You can book some time with me here.

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Written by Daniel Tarockoff, an MBA student at UC Berkeley and former healthcare strategy consultant exploring the future of mental health. Born in Michigan. Based in Berkeley, CA.

🧠 Know Your Options

The latest on the business of mental health and wellness

Welcome to On The Mind, a collection of stories, news, and analyses on the startups, investors, and thought leaders in mental health and wellness.

Here’s what’s included in issue No. 10:

  • Using data to accelerate finding the right treatment option

  • Studying the relationship between mental health and greenspace

  • Finding “awe” in your daily routines

🎙️ Interview with Morgan Hewett and Kyle Pierce, CEO and COO of Options MD

Conversations with founders, investors, and thought leaders in mental health and wellness.

When you speak with Morgan Hewett (Co-Founder/CEO) and Kyle Pierce (Co-Founder/COO) of Options MD, the first thing that comes across is their enthusiasm for and commitment to the work they’re doing. Options MD, which participated in the 2020 cohort of the UnitedHealthcare Accelerator Powered by Techstars, is a platform using patient and clinical data to better help people with severe illnesses access the right treatment, faster. The company is focusing first on patients with treatment-resistant depression (meaning they’ve tried 3 different types of treatments to no avail) - a population of over five and a half million Americans, according to the team.

Can you start us off with why you decided to build Options MD?

We’ve been best friends for nearly a decade. In that time, we’ve been through all of the ups and downs life has thrown at us.

The biggest was a few years back, when Morgan’s older brother was diagnosed with depression and suicidal ideation. He tried over 10 drugs, landed in a hospital over 4 times, and still couldn’t shake his suicidal thoughts. Luckily, he eventually found a treatment plan that worked for him.

Kyle also had a close friend who, after being connected with the wrong treatment, took her own life.

For us, we knew there had to a better way, and thought about how we could use data analytics to shorten the time frame to finding the right care. We know that there’s people out there who have tried and failed to treat their depression, many of which will eventually turn to a suicide attempt if they can’t find relief. We want to show those people that they have options, that they have hope, and we’re building the Options MD platform to make that happen. When we’re working really late at night, that’s who we’re thinking of.

You’re both clearly close to the cause. How do you two split the work of running your company?

When we got started it was all hands on deck. We’re lucky that we benefit from a close relationship and communicate extremely well. It allowed us to avoid needing strict lines of where our responsibilities split from the start.

As we got more sophisticated and needed to dig deeper into certain parts of the business, we found places where we had interests and skillsets.

Morgan launched Facebook’s healthcare marketing division, working with pharma and healthtech companies to recruit and engage patients, so she was a natural fit for patient engagement. She’s since built up what’s now the largest community of treatment-resistant patients on Facebook.

Kyle started off as a lawyer involved with acquisitions, and has been leading our fundraising and investor relations. He’s behind our partnerships with companies like Field Trip Health.

And beyond us two, we’re supported by an all-star team of people with the clinical knowledge, data expertise, and personal passion for building something we all full-heartedly believe in.

Can you walk me through the product building journey? What has it looked like?

We’ve learned a lot since first getting started, and once we got into the flow of getting out of our own way, centering on constant improvement, our product really took shape.

The problem we’re most interested in solving is the patient experience. You’ve been diagnosed, tried a bunch of treatements, none worked, and now you’re ready to give up. It’s been a guiding force for us to remain a patient facing tool. We want to educate patients and make sure they know they still have so many treatment options out there, and that there’s at least one that will work for them.

Our MVP was a quiz patients could take; the output was a list of treatments they’re eligible for, with details on each, including the risks involved. We received great feedback, but we really left patients hanging - they liked the options, but wondered what to do next and who they could speak to to learn more.

Most of the identified treatments aren’t just readily available at your local PCP, or even psychiatrist. We found it wasn’t just about treatment matching, but also provider matching. That led us to begin developing a network of top specialists so that we could match patients with the right care plan and the right provider to deliver that care plan.

What we’re really proud of building is a community for those with treatment-resistant depression. Everybody told us that people who are depressed are difficult to engage, that they wouldn’t talk to us. We found that was completely wrong - while these people may not want to engage with their health insurer, or might not want to talk to their old doctor, they’re desperate for a solution and they do want to talk to someone. In addition to continuing to develop our matching algorithms, we’ve created a waitlist and accompanying Facebook community, where we engage daily with free resources.

“Options” is in your company name, and you mention over 500 available treatments. What do these consist of?

The vast majority of patients are only getting access to a subset of SSRIs, such as Lexapro. This is what psychiatrists primarily prescribe.

The majority of patients we work with are far beyond that, but there are so many other options - neurogeneration medications, SNRIs, atypical antidepressants, and a variety of more cutting edge treatments like transcranial magnetic stimulation, electroconvulsive therapy, and psychedelics. Then there are combinations of multiple treatments, and a variety of options that are still being researched in clinical trials.

Our view is that the main problem is a lack of education, where patients aren’t aware that they have other options available to them. They’ve spent so much time and money on treatments that have failed them, don’t have much money left, and are desperate to get their life back on track.

How do you determine the right option for each patient? What does being an Options MD member entail?

In addition to considering basic medical protocols, we bring in data that we’ve generated from looking at clinical trials and academic journals to determine a range of treatment options.

From there, we apply machine learning, taking into account individual patient medical history, direct feedback from physicians we partner with, and a variety of non-traditional data points, including a patients’ ability to pay, motivations, and lifestyle. This culminates in a prioritized list of options personalized for each patient.

Our members go through four steps. First, they receive their list of personalized treatment options. Second, we refer them to the right providers in their price range. Third, we pair each user with a peer mentor who has also been through depression. And finally, we enable them to track their progress daily through a mobile app, flagging any changes and side effects through their treatment.

How do you make money?

Our initial business model focuses on two groups.

First, we charge a small monthly access fee of $25/month, which gives members access to the full Options MD platform. Secondly, the majority of our revenue is generated through partnerships with clinics. We provide patient referrals and help our partners with overall patient engagement.

Longer term, we also see a clear opportunity in working with payers - UnitedHealthcare is one of our largest investors. They see our value in reaching a difficult patient population and helping them re-engage with the healthcare system.

What’s been the hardest part of working on Options MD?

We’ve built a pretty robust waitlist of patients who are eager to use our platform, which has been both a blessing and a curse. We’re grateful for the interest, but it’s not like we’re waiting to drop the next trendy clothing line. It’s people who are in desperate need of a treatment that works. There’s an emotional struggle attached to our effort of getting this up and running as soon as possible, and in a safe way.

We’re playing the start up game for a topic that matters. Sometimes we feel we’re moving like snails, but then we look back and see the progress we’ve made. Our launch can’t come soon enough, but it’s that struggle of how fast we can get to market vs. figuring out everything we can do to derisk our company, which inherently slows us down.

The part that makes it difficult is the same part that motivates us to continue the work each day.

🩺 Clinical Coverage

Discussion of clinical concepts, studies, or perspectives on mental health and wellbeing.

It’s been intuitively known for a long time that being in nature has a positive effect on mental health, but it’s now being researched to see just how positive that effect is for people living with mental illnesses.

Dr. John Torous, director of the digital psychiatry division at Beth Israel, used a platform his lab has developed to investigate the correlation between schizophrenia symptoms and time spent in green spaces.

The platform pulls participants’ GPS data from their phone and tracks that against a map of NDVI (normalized difference vegetation index), which is a measure of green space in a given area. With that, the researchers can assign a green space “score” and correlate that score with participants’ symptoms. In the initial (small scale) study, it was found that participants who had schizophrenia who spent more time in green space environments had lower symptoms of anxiety, depression, and psychosis.

The results are correlational, not causational, but are informing the design of future research. Dr. Torous is continuing to investigate the relationship between mental health and greenspaces, as well as the impact pollution has on mental health.

💰 Recent Investments and IPOs

Rundown of recent investment news in mental health and wellness companies.

Investments have been pouring into the space the past few weeks. It’s an early sign of continued interest despite our transition to post-pandemic life - a signal that mental health is less of a passing trend and more of a sustained component of our health and wellbeing that we’ll prioritize moving forward.

📖 Interesting Reads

Sometimes mental health-related. Sometimes just things I find interesting.

  • A deep dive into North Korea’s hacking army. New Yorker

  • Are outdoor mask mandates still necessary? The Atlantic

  • Seth Rogen’s secret to happiness. The New York Times Magazine

  • The importance of carving out downtime between meetings. Microsoft

  • How Big Tech became Big (spoiler: mad acquisitions). The Washington Post

  • The fungus is among us. NYTimes

  • You’re at higher risk for dementia if you sleep less than 6 hours. WSJ

  • I’m late on this one - but Patrick Collison is a legend. Noahpinion

  • Over 200,000 people live with a neural implant of some kind. New Yorker

  • So inspiring. Battle of the Daniels is coming soon. WSJ

  • The saga of Signal vs. Cellebrite. Signal

  • A guide to better online arguments. The Guardian

  • Headspace releases another feature on Netflix, focused on better sleep. Esquire

  • CVS is now offering mental healthcare in stores. NPR

  • Fine dining goes vegan. NYTimes

  • The history of NYC offices - is the office as we know it dead? Curbed

  • How much energy does Bitcoin actually consume? HBR

  • A look at Bill and Melinda Gates’ real estate portfolio. Robb Report

  • Can we live to 200? NYTimes

🧠 Mindfulness Tip of the Week

Tips to improve your mental health and wellbeing.

Now that we’re deep into Spring, approaching Summer, and slowly but surely returning to a sense of normalcy, it’s the perfect time to make “awe walks” a part of your practice.

It’s easy to get caught up in a routine, focus on getting from point A to point B, or even just let your mind remain preoccupied with random thoughts. I try to spend at least 15 minutes outside each day (ideally longer), whether it’s just sitting in my backyard, walking around the block, or going for a run or bike ride. The outdoor time is in and of itself helpful for my mental health, but incorporating “awe” really forces me to be present.

Incorporating “awe” simply means that you’re actively looking for and consciously noting when things in your environment spark a sense of wonder. In a study of older adults published last September in the journal Emotion, half of the participants went on weekly 15-minute walks and were told to snap “selfies,” while the other half did the same but were instructed specifically to take note of things that inspired awe (e.g., colors, sounds, smells). The “awe walk” group not only reported less distress and increasing awe, joy, compassion, and gratitude, but also smiled more in their selfies and captured more of the surrounding nature, rather than themselves.

Try it out for yourself this week, and see how it feels to tune in.

On Your Mind

I’d love your feedback - feel free to email me at tarockoff@berkeley.edu.

If you’re working on something in mental health and wellness, let’s talk. You can book some time with me here.

Know someone who’d enjoy On The Mind?

Share On The Mind

Was this newsletter forwarded to you?

Written by Daniel Tarockoff, an MBA student at UC Berkeley and former healthcare strategy consultant exploring the future of mental health. Born in Michigan. Based in Berkeley, CA.

🧠 Tech.-Enabled Providers

The latest on the business of mental health and wellness

Welcome to On The Mind, a collection of stories, news, and analyses on the startups, investors, and thought leaders in mental health and wellness.

Here’s what’s included in issue No. 9:

  • Making it easier for providers to deliver mental healthcare

  • Psilocybin goes head-to-head with a leading SSRI

  • Applying the Pomodoro Technique to improve your workflow

🎙️ Interview with Dr. Harry Ritter, Founder and CEO of Alma

Conversations with founders, investors, and thought leaders in mental health and wellness.

Harry Ritter grew up in a family that was very passionate about healthcare. Both of his parents were doctors, so he was subject to that life path from a young age, ingraining an appreciation for what it means to commit your life to help others live happier and healthier. It’s why he started down that path himself - but ultimately, after completing medical school and his first year of residency, he stopped practicing in search of a role that better fit his interests within the healthcare field. What followed was a journey through strategy consulting and startups, until 2017 when he founded Alma, a company making it easier for consumers to access high-quality, affordable mental health care by supporting providers in building thriving private practices. I spoke with Harry about how he found his way to behavioral health, Alma’s product offerings, his relationship with investors, and where he sees the industry going.

What made you decide to leave your residency at Mass General?

I’ve always loved medicine and loved healthcare, but I felt like I hadn’t found what I wanted to do clinically. I had started two companies in the past - a college blogging platform as an undergraduate, and a social network for medical students while in medical school. Both were utter flops, but they got me hooked into the business world.

When I started my residency, I was working under Hasan Bazari, this legendary doctor who never said much but was kind of like Yoda, full of wisdom. I remember him emphasizing that we’re in the business of building leaders in healthcare, whatever that looks like. I was motivated to find a role that matched the impact I wanted to make - I ended up applying for a bunch of jobs and landed at McKinsey. I spent a year there, and then made my way to the Oscar Insurance team - I knew a couple of the founding members and really fell in love with the team.

You spent 4 years at Oscar before founding Alma. How did your time at Oscar mold your interest in mental health and your vision for Alma?

At Oscar, behavioral health was so on the side, so undertreated. Across the healthcare field people talked about diabetes, but there wasn’t much conversation around anxiety, which is far more widespread. The majority of people who need care aren’t getting it, and it was obvious this was the biggest opportunity in healthcare today.

Simultaneously, I was managing my dad’s health as a solo caregiver, and started to see a therapist during that experience to deal with the anxiety, grief, and fear. I became a real believer in mental healthcare - and this was after completing my primary care training, where we really hadn’t learned much about behavioral health.

One of the key insights I had watching the rise of mental healthcare was that there was increasing demand alongside an entirely fragmented community of providers. In behavioral health you have mainly single shingle, solo practioners, and I wanted to figure out how to help these providers do better.

My time at Oscar prepared me greatly for creating Alma. For one, it was a really privileged spot to see the needs in the industry. Something that makes Alma unique is how much we work with insurance companies to make sure our members are covered, and everything I’ve applied with our current payer partners comes from my Oscar experience. Secondly, Oscar taught me the value in building a simple product experience. Oscar was great because of its simplicity - there was a flow for how you signed up that was so clean and easy to use. It never cheapened healthcare and made it feel like a game or widget, it was serious, and I retained that orientation of how to build a great product. Finally, I think Oscar is really what instilled the motivation in me to build something big in healthcare. Being in the mix of the disruption that Oscar led got me excited to do the same with Alma.

Where’d the name Alma come from?

We spent some time trying to come up with a name. Alma means “the world” in Aramaic, and “soulfulness” in Latin. We thought, how can you create a business around building soulfulness into the world?

And what does Alma do exactly? What’s the product?

Alma is a membership-based network for independent mental health professionals. When a provider joins as a member practice, we empower them with the tools they need to succeed - lead generation, client matching, telemedicine software, training - basically a practice-in-a-box. We work with insurance companies for our members so that they don’t have to deal with them.

We really exist to simplify access to affordable mental healthcare, and we do that primarily by making the lives of providers as easy as possible. For example, we started with Alma co-practicing spaces, enabling providers to see patients in-person (though coronavirus quickly moved us into a predominately virtual model).

On the consumer side, we’ve designed Alma to uniquely meet the mental health needs in the market. First off, our providers are vetted. When a patient books through Alma, they know our providers have gone through a verification process, and usually their services are in-network. Secondly, consumers have the ability to find providers that match what they’re looking for, with filters for criteria such as language, ethnicity, and area of focus. Finally, we’re unique in that we provide free matching services - we commit to help patients find the right provider for their needs.

We also play a role in serving payers. Insurance companies have heard from employers that a high-quality outpatient network that has consistent availability is crucial. We help solve this by providing access to a reliable network, and by supporting our clinicians with technology, education, and better data to ensure their care is top-notch. And because payers know behavioral health must be a part of delivering value-based care in the long-run, we serve as a trusted partner that can go all the way and integrate with their ecosystem in terms of risk sharing and data sharing.

How do you make money?

My philosophy is that the best business models are those that derive value form creating efficiences. Instead of just increasing gross spend in the health system, we try to help collapse gross spend for the system as a whole and take a piece of what we help our customers save.

With that in mind, consumers don’t pay anything - our matching services are free to them.

For our providers, we charge a membership fee, but it’s a fraction of the cost of what they’ve been spending to operate.

For payers, we look the same to them as individual clincians do, but we just make it much easier to work with us. We make it easier to get network adequacy, help with functions that are difficult for payers (such as credentialing or network management), and are overall just simple to partner with as a technology company that has the software and support infrastructure to aid in day-to-day operations.

You announced a $28M Series B back in February. Can you talk about your venture journey and relationship with investors?

Yep - our most recent raise was our Series B in the beginning of February, which was led by Insight Partners. Altogether we’ve raised a total of $40.5M from a great group of investors - Tusk Ventures, First Round, Primary Venture Partners, Sound Ventures, Insight Partners, Optum Ventures, BoxGroup, Rainfall Ventures, and __able.

Now that we’re at this point with our Series B, we’ve demonstrated product-market fit and the ability to start scaling it smartly. We feel incredibly lucky to have Insight on board now - there’s nobody better at figuring out how to scale. Our investors have been particularly helpful in working through team growth and market growth - we’re hiring like crazy right now and exploring markets at a national scale so that we can serve patients wherever they are.

Where do you see mental healthcare going in the next 5-10 years?

The first thing I expect to shift dramatically is how we effectively measure quality in behavioral health. We’re starting from an okay baseline, but we have a lot further to go. As far as validated clinical assessments go, we’re really still at the beginning.

Secondly, and more conceptually, we’re just starting to shift from thinking of behavioral health as preventive rather than curative. We still orient toward thinking of mental illness, and then discuss mental health as a response to mental illness. I think we’ll see a lot of movement toward a preventive system - more preventive screenings, perhaps with primary behavioral providers becoming the norm, and a similar shift occuring in the education system. Medical school often lags a little bit behind what’s happening in the field and what people are expecting or requesting. Mindfulness, grit, and resilience are slowly finding their way into the nomenclature.

I think companies like Headspace and Calm have played a really interesting role in chanigng the tone of how we think about mental wellbeing. There are also a lot of interesting approaches focusing on specific markets or needs, such as businesses going deeper into things like ketamine or adolescent care, which I think we’ll see more of.

If you’re interested in what Alma’s up to, you can subscribe to their bi-weekly newsletter The Digest, which covers news, essays, and research on mental healthcare. If you’re looking for your next role, you can check out open positions on Alma’s job board (currently, they’re seeking a mix of community, finance, marketing, and product/engineering roles).

🩺 Clinical Coverage

Discussion of clinical concepts, studies, or perspectives on mental health and wellbeing.

This past week, a highly-anticipated trial was released comparing the efficacy of Psilocybin versus a popular selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), Escitalopram, in treating depression.

Published in The New England Journal of Medicine, the phase 2, double-blind, randomized, controlled trial evaluated treatment efficacy across a patient panel of 59 participants.

The outcome? The trial did not show a significant difference in antidepressant effects between Psilocybin and Escitalopram.

What does it mean for psychedelic therapy, specifically psilocybin? Despite the outcomes remaining similar across both treatments, it’s worth noting that the Psilocybin treatment required just two doses three weeks apart, while Escitalopram was provided daily across the six weeks. Psilocybin also outperformed in several secondary measures detailed in the trial.

There is significance alone in the trial being published in such a prestigious journal, as it brings additional attention to Psilocybin’s therapeutic potential. Still, given the small sample size, additional trials with larger panels and longer durations will need to be conducted to continue comparing Psilocybin against established treatments.

💰 Recent Investments and IPOs

Rundown of recent investment news in mental health and wellness companies.

📖 Interesting Reads

Sometimes mental health-related. Sometimes just things I find interesting.

🧠 Mindfulness Tip of the Week

Tips to improve your mental health and wellbeing.

Today I figured I’d lay out a tool I’ve incorporated in the past that I’ve recently brought back into my workflow: the Pomodoro Technique.

It’s not a novel idea, and the psychology behind it is quite straightforward. Create space in your mind for dedicated work time in short bursts, and reward yourself accordingly with protected breaks.

Instead of the notorious red tomato-shaped timer, I use the Otto app, a Google Chrome plug-in. With Otto, you can apply the Pomodoro Technique to your workflow and view simple reports with insights that can help you allocate your time more appropriately.

So far, incorporating work sprints with brief breaks has helped, but the jury’s still out on whether I change my broader use of time based on the reports. I’m not sure if understanding how I’m spending my time is enough motivation to make meaningful changes…but it can’t hurt.

On Your Mind

I’d love your feedback - feel free to email me at tarockoff@berkeley.edu.

If you’re working on something in mental health and wellness, let’s talk. You can book some time with me here.

Know someone who’d enjoy On The Mind?

Share On The Mind

Was this newsletter forwarded to you?

Written by Daniel Tarockoff, an MBA student at UC Berkeley and former healthcare strategy consultant exploring the future of mental health. Born in Michigan. Based in Berkeley, CA.

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