This is the latest in my series of posts spotlighting underrepresented communities around the world and the entrepreneurs trying to help them. In this installment, I talk to a Silicon Valley founder who suffered from mental health issues and now wants to help millions of people suffering silently around the world from similar problems.
"I was diagnosed bipolar six years ago. It took me two years to get stabilization. I went through hospitalizations, medications, and mental health professionals. I was inspired to find a preventative solution."
Those are the words of Dan Seider, one the founders of STIGMA, a platform created to help individuals improve their mental health. Mental health issues affect one in five Americans and cost $193 billion in lost earnings per year. It's estimated that 60% of those diagnosed don't receive treatment. The statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Health are a real eye opener for the average American who, as Seider says, is not actively managing their mental health.
"Mental health should be treated like your physical health. Something that you're constantly taking care of. You shouldn't only start working out if you become obese. We just don't have the tools to track and understand and help us make better decisions to improve our mental health."
Loneliness is a Huge Factor
Loneliness often plays a key part in mental health issues - not only the physical aspect of being alone, but the feeling of being alienated from the people that one comes into contact with on a daily basis.
"Loneliness impacts half of the people who are dealing with mental health issues," Seider says. "These individuals don't have a support network. They don't have meaningful friends. Without those two things, you cannot expect to adequately improve your mental health. Mental health issues cause loneliness and loneliness causes mental health issues. It's a positive feedback loop without a great solution."
Until now. Seider hopes STIGMA will aid those suffering from mental health issues by letting them write journals, which can then be seen by a community they may not have become a part of otherwise.
"Every journal entry you write, you have the option to keep private to yourself. You can share it with your pen pals, or you can share it with the anonymous community. We help individuals who are looking for a pen pal, a deeper friendship, or a supportive peer. We match those individuals up based on where they are on their personalities and interests, as well as if they are looking for a peer, looking for support, or looking to give support."
Technology to the Rescue
"My psychiatrist and therapist recommended mood tracking to me... It's the 21st century (I thought); I am not going to use a piece of paper to track my moods. That idea was ingrained in my head."
This degree of inter-connectivity would not have been possible twenty years ago. Smart phones and tablets have made performing daily functions like journaling and emotional mood mapping easier than ever before.
With that in mind, Seider got together with his co-founder to create STIGMA as an answer to Seider's specific issues. "He pushed me to learn how to do it. We launched it and it's been growing since... People love us. We've had nearly two thousand people post a five star review in the app store."
STIGMA is intended to provide answers for mental health questions not often thought about.
"Do the people that I spend my time around help me grow as an individual? [Do they] help me improve my mental health? STIGMA will be built out to make sense of how all aspects of your life impact your mental health."
Given the high numbers of people dealing with mental health issues, it would seem that apps like STIGMA may be able to help members of this often-ignored community in the U.S. and around the world.
The approach is starting to gain significant traction. Nearly 5 percent of STIGMA's 10,000 active users pay for mental health analytics. Seider is currently making the rounds in Silicon Valley, hoping stats like that help him secure investment.
"While the product and social aspects of Stigma are free, the mental health analytics are what people pay for. Right now we are in the process of meeting with investors so we can bring this out to the 157 million people that are in need of a solution to their problems."