Junto Profile: Henry Health
In the United States, 1 in 5 adults have a mental health condition, but 56% of these individuals are not currently receiving appropriate treatment.
We can attribute a portion of this treatment gap to the lack of access to services that many face due to both insurance concerns and also the shortage of mental health professionals. Another major reason that this gap exists however, is due to stigma surrounding mental health and the lack of culturally competent solutions.
Stigma is a social process which involves the labeling, discrimination, and othering of individuals. In the healthcare realm, stigma has been shown to negatively impact the help-seeking behaviors that individuals exhibit, as well as their overall well-being and self-esteem . While stigma can affect anyone, some communities have been seen to experience the stigmatization of mental illness to greater degrees than others. Black/African Americans are one population where stigma has been shown to be disproportionately abundant and adversely affecting the health outcomes of individuals.
African Americans have been seen to be 20% more likely than Caucasian Americans to report experiencing significant psychological distress, however they use mental health services at only ½ the rate of their white counterparts. With less than 2% of American Psychological Association members being Black/African American, some African Americans who are interested in seeking treatment have concerns that practitioners are not culturally competent enough appropriately assist them. Additionally, some patients have reported experiences with therapists in which they faced microaggressions and racism, further compounding the community’s apprehension around mental health care. While many may feel overwhelmed at the idea of attempting to overcome the challenge of mental health stigma and cultural competency, a newly founded startup is attempting to do just that.
Henry Health was founded in 2017 and has set the goal of adding 10 years to the life expectancy of black men within the next 25 years through mental health awareness, treatment, and destigmatization. Filled with ambition, drive, and passion, the Henry Health team stands out as a health technology company that is aiming to improve the lives of at-risk individuals and potentially help turn the tide on startling downward trends in life expectancy rates and health outcomes seen amongst African Americans throughout the country.
We recently interviewed their founder, Kevin Dedner, so we could hear more about the work that Henry Health is doing and their newly launched telehealth platform.
Junto Health (JH): What inspired you to found Henry Health? What was your background prior to starting the company?
KEVIN DEDNER (KD): On a Saturday night five years ago, I returned home after being out with some friends. I turned on the news and learned that George Zimmerman had been acquitted. I was mad and upset. I went to bed and woke up the next morning with a terrible headache. My headache lasted for several days. When my headache finally subdued, I wondered- Could the sociological pressures of being a black man make you sick. I started researching the question. I read several journal articles about the stress associated with being a black man. I was astonished to find out that the answer was YES. The public health professional in me found the correlation between unmanaged stress and untreated mental health issues and poor health outcomes arresting. It was even more distressing to learn that African American men have and have always had the lowest life expectancy of any population in the US.
I wanted to share this founding with everyone. I even bought the domain, What’s killing black men. I thought I’d write a book. Within a couple of years, I found myself in a period of depression. When I realized that I was depressed, I started to seek out care. I bounced around to three therapists before I could find a therapist to help me put my life on track. Today, Dr. Spann has joined our team has our chief clinical officer. As I was rebuilding my consulting practice, my other Founder, Oliver Sims approached me. Oliver is an Angel Investor and wanted to get in the health tech space. He asked me a series of questions about what was keeping me up at night. I left that conversation with a new purpose. I credit Oliver with turning on the light.
Before Henry Health, I led a consulting practice focused on public health and social issues. I have worked on a variety of public health issues; everything from tobacco control, HIV/AIDS to childhood obesity. So in many ways, Henry Health is just an evolution of my career. However, it is also personal for me. The ideas and concepts come from my lived experience.
JH: Who else is on the Henry Health team?
KD: We have a very talented team. As the CEO, I am responsible for leading the overall effort. Oliver Sims is a Founder and COO; he is responsible for providing operational direction and technical counsel. Dr. Tony Spann is the Chief Clinical Officer; he is responsible for leading the development of the Approach to Care. Dr. Ashley White is the Chief Self-Care Officer; she is responsible for developing the Henry model, and the self-supports for men. Shawn Scott, if the Chief Technology Officer; he is responsible for the app and platform build. Last but not least, we have an incredible creative director in Armando Simmons. He plays a critical role because we believe that cultural competency starts with images.
JH: Where did the name Henry come from?
KD: We are asked that question often, and it’s a good question. The truth is that we asked a focus group of men to tell us the name of a man in their life who was synonymous with what it meant to be strong. The men gave us several names, but Henry stood out. In the back of my mind, I knew the story of the African American folk hero, John Henry. As the tale goes, John Henry worked on the railroad and was known for his strength, the steel-driving man. He was tasked with hammering a steel drill into rock to make holes of explosives. According to the legend, John Henry’s strength was ultimately measured in a race that he won. However, he would die with his hammer in hand as his heart gave out from stress. That’s the story of black men in America. While he often appears to have won, the consequences to the pressure that he endures are deadly.
JH: Can you speak a little bit about your long-term goal and the Moonshot Challenge that you are part of with Startup Health?
KD: As you know, Startup Health asks all of their portfolio companies to set a moonshot. A moonshot is a goal that sounds as crazy as going to the moon. Candidly, it was my CTO who set our moonshot. At first, I was intimidated by the goal. The public health guy in me could not fathom how we could add ten years to the life expectancy of black men within twenty-five years.
When you consider the fact that black men have the lowest life expectancy of any group in this country and the impact of stress on the body, there is no debate about what stress is doing to us. It is literally killing us. Stress in itself is a good thing, but chronic stress starts to have a negative impact on our emotional, mental and physical health.
JH: When will your service be launching? What is the size and scope of your initial pilot?
KD: Our minimum viable product will launch on the week of September 17, 2018. I am so excited about this offering. We have trained ten therapists to support up to 100 men who reside in the District of Columbia, Maryland, or Virginia. If I may, I think it’s essential to mention that we built a cultural competency training to support our therapists in understanding the experiences that black men are having in this country. All of the therapists who are on our platform will undergo this training, and we will build out other trainings over time.
JH: How many men do you currently have on your waiting list?
KD: We currently have 52 men on our waiting list. They are from all over the country. We’ve done very little paid advertising. We’ve experimented with Facebook Ads, but most of our men have come to us organically. That’s why we are convinced that we can compel men to take advantage of our services.
JH: How does membership work for men who are interested in your program? Are you working with any insurance providers on reimbursement models?
KD: Men will be able to download our app or sign-in on our platform. From there, they will take an assessment. Paying subscribers will be paired with a therapist post-assessment. Our digital app and platform will not only offer culturally sensitive teletherapy to black men, but we also recognize that health outcomes are influenced by many factors including diet, physical activity, setting reasonable goals, and managing stress.
All users—subscribers and non-subscribers—will have access to self-care support, tools that support them in taking better care of themselves. Our pilot program will feature three services, chat therapy ($49/week), video therapy ($69/week) and group therapy ($79/week). Later this fall we will also introduce our self-care support services which will operate with a freemium model that costs $12.99 for the premium monthly subscription. Initially, our product will be completely self-pay, but we are working to become credentialed to accept insurance across the country. Additionally, we are exploring options to become an employer paid benefit through EAP programs.
JH: What has the reception of Henry Health been among medical practitioners? How are you able to determine if a practitioner is suitable to work with Henry Health?
KD: A couple of months ago, we convened a focus group of therapists from the Washington, DC metro area. In all, we had 15 therapists there. Before this convening, I had conducted some one on one interviews with therapists but having them all in one place made for an incredible learning opportunity. What was clear is Henry Health is desperately needed. We asked them lots of questions about the men they were seeing and what drove them to seek care. Most of the men had found care, (like me) because they reached a breaking point. Often there is a misunderstanding about what we are trying to do; some people misinterpret our work with us trying to build a segregated place of care. That is not the case at all. What we understand is that you don’t have to be black to treat a black person. What you do need to be is culturally competent and sensitive. We believe that if the desire is there, we can equip anyone to meet the needs of black men. So desire is what we are looking for in practitioners.
JH: How has it been recruiting men to participate in Henry Health’s program? Have you had to address stigma around mental healthcare head-on before even getting individuals involved in the program?
KD: We have not had an all-out recruitment phase just yet. We are just getting there. We're focused on delivering culturally sensitive care to Black men, ages 18-64, by speaking directly to them and their needs. Through all of our research and focus groups, cultural competency has come up repeatedly as one of the biggest reason why minorities don't seek care. The lack of cultural competency is a broad problem across the entire healthcare industry, as medical professionals of all types remain an extreme minority. In the behavioral health field, less than 3% of clinicians and practitioners are people of color, which makes finding a culturally competent therapist almost impossible for people in certain parts of the country.
There are also cultural barriers associated with black men and in a broader sense black people seeking mental health services. These barriers include religious and social barriers. I believe that these barriers are starting to diminish with so many people in the popular culture beginning to address mental health publicly.
JH: Have you faced any major challenges along your journey of launching Henry Health? How have you managed to overcome these potential roadblocks?
KD: Early on, no one was interested in talking to us. When we did get the attention of investors or stakeholders, they tried to redirect us from our founding mission. However, we were steadfast and committed to the idea of making the emotional and mental health of black men a public health priority. I have heard many founders talk about the number of, “NOs” you get before you get the, “YES.” I have been told the average is around 200 “NOs”’. I am on something like 75-80. So, one could argue that we are almost there! I believe in our mission, and have confidence in our team, and that is the reason we will be successful.
JH: What advice would you give for others who are interested in founding health technology companies focused on supporting under-represented and marginalized groups? Is there anything you wish that someone had told you before you embarked on this project?
KD: I think my naivety has helped me a great deal. Not having a history in the tech space has played to my benefit. I don’t know the rules, so I often break them. I think creating anything is all about mindset. So, I’d ask other founders a series of questions: Do you believe in yourself? Do you believe in your team? Do you believe in your mission? If you can’t answer those questions by saying, “absolutely yes,”.. you should go down another road. After we got past the initial group of individuals who could not appreciate what we were trying to do, we were embraced by new friends who were willing to partner with us to make this dream become a reality. I think it would have been helpful to know this early on, but having had the experience makes it real. For that I am grateful.
JH: What are the next 3 big milestones coming up for Henry Health?
KD: This is an exciting time for the life of Henry Health. We are headed to market, talking to investors and blueprinting our product. So, I think the big milestones ahead are:
Reaching our goal of 100 men in our Pilot.
Introducing self-care supports to our MVP.
Being able to accept health insurance.
Please let me mention a 4th one: Securing a lead investor to lead our seed round.