Using Technology to Transform Support for Mental Health and Addiction
TryCycle was born in 2012 when two grad students got together, just a stone’s throw away from Yale, to discuss what they could do to try something new to break the “cycle” of opioid addiction in Connecticut. People were dying at an alarming rate from opioid abuse, despite the best efforts of well-intentioned people and agencies who provide treatment, therapy, medicine, and care.
Then, a couple of years ago, the organization caught the eye of my colleague at RGAX, Chris Murumets. As Managing Director for RGAX Americas, Chris is always open to opportunities to collaborate with developers that use new technology in ways that make a tangible difference.
As Chris shared, “Opioid addiction and mental health are real problems affecting real people, and it’s getting harder to find someone whose life hasn’t been touched by them in some way. TryCycle is using the best of technology to solve a human problem by putting humans in the right place at the right time. A collaboration with TryCycle felt like a natural fit with our core mission of helping people live longer, healthier, and more financially secure lives.”
We met with John Macbeth, TryCycle’s co-founder and CEO, to discuss how TryCycle is collaborating with mental health care providers to drive positive change.
Q: COVID-19 lockdowns have had an effect on our lives. TryCycle is more broadly relevant, but can we start there? What are you seeing, and why is TryCycle more important than ever?
In a good year, we typically see a delay of two to three years in the reporting of mental health statistics. 2020 has just decimated reporting, so it’s going to take the mental health industry even longer to unravel exactly how COVID-19 has impacted the mental health of communities and individuals. But I can provide some local information related to the projects we’re working on.
In the New England courts, for example, we’re seeing a 300% increase in addiction and firearm-related interventions. Put those things together—mental health and guns—add addiction onto that, and you have a recipe for trouble.
In some cases, the increase in unemployment payments has made it even worse. Some of these people received $1,200 a month, which suddenly gave them more “disposable” income than they’ve had all year. So what do they do? They can’t go see their counselor. Even their ability to get together with family and friends in a healthy venue is limited. So they give in to their addiction and buy drugs or alcohol. Domestic disturbances increase, and when there is a gun in the house, things can escalate from bad to deadly very quickly.
Q: Has COVID impacted what you’re focused on at TryCycle?
We focus on a wide array of problems, and I’d love to get into some real-world examples. COVID-19 has impacted the social fabric of our civilization at a speed we’ve never before experienced, and the repercussions are going to last for years.
There’s a massive demand for mental health services and a very small supply—smaller than usual—as the pandemic also impacts mental health providers. Relapses and addiction occur when support isn’t readily available. The patient knows they need help. They want help, but there’s nowhere to get it. They’re alone. They feel useless. They feel full of shame. It’s a downward spiral that traps people, and with no help available, it can seem like there’s no way to break out of it.
Q: What makes TryCycle different from other mental health apps on the market?
I’m glad you asked, because that is fundamental to understanding how TryCycle works. First, we are not a psychiatrist-in-a-box like many of the other mental health apps on the market today. We’re a clinician decision support tool. Our core target users are the highly engaged, empathetic, passionate group of people who tend to be drawn to the mental health profession.
Instead of being reactive, we’re helping these clinicians be proactive and turn the downward spiral that leads to relapse into a positive cycle that helps people recover. When people stay in recovery for two years, they have a much higher chance of staying in recovery.
When patients stay in recovery, the clinician isn’t triaging all the time, and they have more time available. So what does an empathetic, engaged clinician do? They don’t take vacations. They see more patients.
TryCycle gives these clinicians insights they never had before and allows them to make better decisions about where they can do the most good. Once a clinician really adopts TryCycle, they start to depend on it because they can see what’s happening to their patient when they’re not face to face in a personal or group session. We’ve had patients tell their clinician, “I knew you cared about me when we were in session, but I didn’t realize you cared about me 24/7.”
Q: As I understand it, you’re also helping the clinician tap into other support people in the community. Is that right? And how does that work?
That’s exactly right. There are a lot of resources available to support people who want help: support group leaders, local pastors, and parole officers. As a clinician who works with people in recovery, these other people are assets to me. I’m using the application to identify an issue, but I can reach out to them to get the patient the help they need.
Let me give you two examples of pilot projects we’re working on: one with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in conjunction with the University of Connecticut in Botswana, South Africa, and another with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in Saskatchewan, Canada. Our Botswana project revolves around women—mostly teenage girls—who are dealing with postpartum depression.
If you have a mental health diagnosis in Botswana, you have no support services. Many of these girls suffer in isolation. The same can be said for most North American indigenous communities, as they don’t have support services either, especially doctors. You definitely don’t have access to a psychiatrist. You have a tribal nurse, and that’s it. She might not be trained to deal with mental health disorders, but she’s part of the social fabric of the community. She’s the one that knows everybody.
In both geographies, the data is harvested locally using the app, but it’s sent to a trained professional somewhere else in the world for analysis. If there’s a risk scenario, the professional is able to call the tribal nurse or the village mid-wife to say, ‘Hey, something’s going on with patient X, here’s what we should do.’ We’re like a guardian angel for these incredibly committed people who, because of their connections to the community, can also tap into other resources in the community or village—an aunt, mother, sister—who are in a mentorship role to the client.
Q: Why did you choose to partner with RGAX?
RGAX’s can-do attitude and their ability to scale into the channel are invaluable to us. Having the support of RGA and RGAX opens up a reservoir of collaboration opportunities within the insurance space. With them, we have found a group of people who share our core philosophy: if you help people, the business will follow.
Q: If I’m a clinician, or even a support person, like a local pastor or substance abuse counselor, how can I find out more about TryCycle?
The best way to explore our application is on our website: TryCycledata.com. We have a vast amount of resources, including videos, case studies, and even insights about the science behind what we do. When you’re ready to talk with someone, we have offices in Toronto, Ottawa, and Connecticut. We’re doing work all over the world, but our core efforts are in North America.
Thanks to John for taking the time to talk to us about how TryCycle is tackling the problems associated with mental health and substance use disorders.
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