What's Going Wrong In Mental Health Tech

Quirk is definitely not the first company in the space of mental health tech. We are proceeded by a whole host of companies and startups that have found varying success within their own niche. Calm, Headspace, Moodpath, Woebot, Talkspace, despite this being a relatively new field, there’s a number of people already doing very well.

I think the reason why there has been so many new companies being born within mental health tech is because of the problem. The problem Quirk and everyone else is trying to solve is absolutely huge.

With something like 2 billion people on the planet struggling with their mental health, there simply is not enough humans to be able to help them all.

There must be a tech solution to solve the worldwide problems within mental health. There have been a number of interesting attempts so far, but all of them have been fundamentally flawed.

1. Trying to scale humans to meet demand.

This solution is being tried with some promising limited success by companies like Doctors On Demand, and TalkSpace. The main idea behind it being that you can create ease of access to doctors and therapists through an app or technology on your phone.

This solution has the right idea. People aren’t seeing therapists, so let’s make it easier to see the therapist.

The main problem with this solution is that it doesn’t address the reason that people aren’t seeing a therapists. Yes, seeing a therapist is a high friction process that’s hard to do, technology can reduce that friction.

But “teletherapy” doesn’t address the fundamental supply and demand problem that is going on in the market of mental health. Even if you give them all smartphones with video camera’s to communicate with patients, there still isn’t enough therapists in the world to address the demand.

It ignores the main problem. There’s not enough humans on planet earth to help everyone get better.

2. Replacing the humans with AI.

So after realizing that there aren’t enough humans to meet the demand for mental health, someone inevitably comes up with the idea “well let’s create an AI that can replace the therapist!” which honestly sounds super cool.

If someone successfully does this, it will be the most amazing thing to ever happen in this industry. The problem is that AI is not advanced enough to replace a therapist. Current AI falls into the phenomenon of uncanny valley, where having a near identical resemblance to a human arouses a sense of unease or revulsion in the person viewing it.

Or in other words, we sincerely dislike pretending a “non human” is “human”.

Replacing the human with an AI is a really great marketing campaign, but fundamentally as a product it is taking the humanity out of the experience of therapy.

Both creating a product that provides teletherapy AND an AI bot that acts as a therapist, are trying to create a product that replaces traditional face to face therapy. Both can’t win the market for the same reason, they will never be better than traditional therapy.

The goal of companies entering mental health tech should not be to try and replace traditional therapy, but to help it evolve into something new.

3. They don’t know how to build great software.

I’m not going to say that Quirk is the first company ever to create a product for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, there have been a number of them before us.

But to date, none of them have successfully attacked the consumer market.

I think one of the reasons for this is the drastically huge skillset you need in order to pull this off. Often what you get is a therapist or psychotherapist, someone with their masters or PHD, that knows a lot about CBT who then tries and create a product around it.

The problem with that is that the consumer software game, is a software game.

The amount of people on this planet that have domain knowledge around CBT, understand how to build an amazing piece of software, and have the marketing/business skillset to bring it to a consumer market, is exceedingly rare.

One of the reasons that Quirk is so different is because Evan and I are experts at not only the software game, but the consumer marketing game too.

And that’s what we want to build, a product that uses both extremely effective CBT and is an amazing piece of software.

Koby Conrad - Co-Founder of Quirk

Koby is the Co-Founder of Quirk and loves to write about mental health tech, startups, advertising and marketing. He has a very strong background in consumer products and how psychological factors impact advertising, entrepreneurs, and technology.

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