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Ahead’s CEO on Mental Health in the New Normal

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many Americans to address, or re-address, their mental health. Isolation, anxiety and uncertainty have led to a dramatic increase in mental health issues, illustrated by the 1000% increase in calls to Federal emotional distress hotlines when comparing April 2019 to April 2020. In order to understand the problem and look towards possible mental health solutions in the new normal, we spoke to Andy Rink, CEO of the fastest-growing tech-enabled mental healthcare platform, Ahead.

Ahead was founded in Spring of 2019 with a focus on treating Adult ADHD. From its inception, the service has utilized its unique hybrid-model of care—combining telehealth therapy with traditional care and streamlined prescription fulfillment—to help patients bypass barriers to care so they can receive prompt and complete care.

Since its launch, Ahead has been very successful in its ADHD treatments and has a solid presence in California, New York and Colorado, and is currently expanding statewide in Oregon and Washington State. Carrying that momentum forward, Ahead is expanding its services to include treatments for anxiety and depression as well as offering traditional therapy.

Rink’s co-founder, Emile Barraza, addressed the expansion in a press release, “We realize that the need for improved mental healthcare doesn’t stop at ADHD. We’re driven by helping people access the care they deserve and plan to continue adding new technology-powered services based on learnings from our patients.”

In our interview with Andy Rink, he addresses the current state of mental health, how the current pandemic is affecting mental healthcare and Ahead’s expansion in the current global climate. We also discuss the future of mental health and hybridized healthcare. For more information on this innovative hybridized mental healthcare platform, check out their website.

Ahead mental health

Grit Daily: Could you tell us a little bit about how you were founded? Why were you focused on ADHD specifically?

Andy Rink: We launched last September and took off from day one with our goal from the beginning to make things easier on those seeking mental health.

There are a lot of opportunities in mental health: Anxiety, depression and ADHD are the main ones. We saw friction in how ADHD was treated. That condition requires specialized treatment and not all psychiatrists are well enough equipped. ADHD treatment has a lot of issues associated with it, particularly difficulty accessing care and stigma. 

We were hybridized from the beginning and initially we started by focusing on messaging to show that we are accepting, understanding and open. We aimed to not push those suffering away. COVID-19 has lead to an increase in demand in our services.

GD: What methods did you use to combat the issues you found surrounding ADHD treatment? 

AR: We focused on streamlined access to care to make the process easier. From there worked on building our network of providers. We have focused on hiring all of our providers in-house. Typically telehealth uses contractors, but hiring full-time providers helps create a team that is focused on the mission, increasing patient comfort and helping them buy into the vision. This is our biggest challenge. The hybrid model adds another challenge by needing a brick and mortar location.

GD: Do you think that foundation would translate well to your expansion into anxiety, depression and traditional healthcare?

AR: Our core values address things that all mental health patients can value.

GD: How do you balance the different aspects of hybridized mental health treatment?

AR: Right now, due to the pandemic, we are only online and have temporarily closed our clinics. Outside of this public health emergency period, we balance it by following regulations, such as if a person must be seen in person for controlled substances, etc. After that, we leave it to the patient. Many people prefer the online method thanks to the flexibility and convenience factor. 

GD: That is interesting, I would have thought it would have been the other way around.

AR: I think that the convenience factor is so nice. Even those that prefer in person visits do enjoy the online option and will balance their schedules between the two. 

ahead mental health

GD: What are your thoughts on how the current state of the country is affecting mental health in America? 

AR: We have seen more people seeking treatment for mental health conditions. We’ve also seen people who are already in our practice whose conditions are being exacerbated. With the concerns about economic security and health issues, many patients are worsening.

Specifically, we are seeing a lot of issues with anxiety; this seems to be the most rampant. We have also seen rises in ADHD. In some cases, medication may not be working as well because everything around them is exacerbating the issue.

GD: How do you think your hybrid model fits into the pandemic we are facing and the transition into a new normal? 

AR: It allows us to be accessible. Anxiety and ADHD are often treated by the use of controlled substances. The law says that to treat those patients you need to have an in-person clinic. Even though that is temporarily lifted due to COVID-19, by being hybridized we can continue to operate regardless of regulation.

GD: Moving forward, do you think that the future of mental health is going to be online? 

AR: I think a lot more of it will be online. After the pandemic, I think that a lot of healthcare providers will be introducing online aspects to their practice because people have experienced it and are becoming comfortable with it. Mental health specifically fits online care very well as a specialty because it is mostly based on talks between the patient and provider.

The reality is that due to the DEA laws, it will never be all online. I also think that the relationship with a mental health provider is another key factor that will prevent mental healthcare from being entirely online regardless of the laws.