Startup COO explains how ‘there’s not enough’ tools out there

Real COO Ajay Khatri joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss Mental Health Awareness Month in May, stigmas in mental health and seeking care, making resources more accessible, and pandemic trends of Americans seeking mental health care and counseling.

Video Transcript

RACHELLE AKUFFO: Welcome back, everyone. World Cup champ Megan Rapinoe, the NFL’s Eric Kendricks of the Minnesota Vikings, and even actress and Goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow, just some of the names trying to reduce the stigma and improve access to mental health treatment by partnering with a company called Real. Well, Royal CEO Ajay Khatri joins us now for more on this. Thank you for joining us. So some prominent names there, obviously. What is drawing them to Real, both as advisors and investors?

AJAY KHATRI: Oh, thanks for having me, first of all. Yeah, the reality is that there’s not enough mental health tools out there for people in the United States. About 93% of the population doesn’t have access to a one-on-one therapy or therapy model. So we’ve got to redefine how we provide care. And that’s what’s Real is going after. And I think the list of investors that you mentioned and advisors are fully aware of that problem and have all experienced or had family or friends experience that, and so are looking for different ways to scale the business.

Ajay, I was scrolling through when I downloaded your app earlier today. Mental health apps on the App Store– I didn’t get to the bottom of the list. There are 20,000 estimated mental health apps out there. What separates yours from the pack?

AJAY KHATRI: yeah. That’s a great question. I think a lot of money has gone into the space and people are trying to attack it in different ways. I think what makes Real different, generally speaking, is we’re driving an asynchronous experience. So one, there’s an overall stigma to getting mental health help. And if you could do that in your privacy in your own home anonymously, that’s the first step to getting you to see full time care. As well as our team has focused a lot on clinical outcomes and driving clinical outcomes. So it’s created by therapists, psychiatrists, MDs that are really focused on how we do drive and improve care and actually provide a scalable model. We’ll have some clinical data being released later this month that’ll show the efficacy in providing that this is the next step forward in providing a care model that can actually scale.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: And you talked about the shortage of mental health care workers. Over 50% of Americans living with mental illness, even though most of the Americans actually live within 10 miles of mental health treatment facilities, aren’t getting treated. We’re seeing about more than 27 million people without that care. And we’re seeing a majority of young people, about 60% of young people also not receiving mental health treatment. So how does some of these mental health startups work with insurance companies or other companies to really make this affordable and more accessible?

AJAY KHATRI: yeah. I think it’s a great question. I think there’s a number of different pathways there. Truthfully, payers across are looking for answers as well. And you’ve got to find asynchronous methodologies. We’re just not putting enough people and therapists through school today to be able to meet that demand. So when you have a supply demand issue, technology is the greatest equalizer of our time. And so we’re focused in on how do you provide that, whether that’s in conjunction with therapy or prior to therapy, how do you really work through this as a holistic industry? And the major names out there in terms of CVS, United, and others out there are looking for the same answers that we’re trying to provide.

You raised the point about the stigma that’s out there. And it’s astonishing that 47% of Americans believe seeking therapy is a sign of weakness. I’m not ashamed to say I have sought therapy at numerous times in my life, and it’s helped me through some of the darkest times in my life. And I think we should all come out and say that if we’re not. And we shouldn’t be ashamed. How do you push back on that stigma in addition to helping?

AJAY KHATRI: yeah. Well, first of all, we’re celebrating Mental Health Awareness Month, right? So it’s nice to have something out there that is reinforcing a positive behavior. I think the other thing is we’ve been so focused as a society on our physical well-being. I think we’ve got to put more out there. We’ve got to give more tools to people to be able to realize how to improve themselves. And I think Real does that.

At the core and the heart of Real is we want to provide a toolset that really allows you to start to self-identify when you’re starting to experience and when you need help. The first step to all this is actually identifying that you are going through and you need help from a mental health standpoint. The truth is it takes 11 years on average for a person to seek mental care health help after they’ve identified or it’s been identified that they have symptoms.

So yeah, we’ve got to work on this collectively. I think companies are more in tune with it as COVID as– one of the positive outcomes from COVID has been awareness that we need more mental health help and overall tools to make us all overall well.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: And as you mentioned COVID, the WHO talked about the disproportionate impact that COVID has had specifically on women and young people. How does Real try and perhaps give better access to those groups? And what is still needed in terms of funding and support for those groups?

AJAY KHATRI: yeah. Look, I think there’s a number of things that need to happen in the space, generally speaking, from a diversity standpoint. There are so many demographics out there that don’t have access to care today, including youth, including women, including racial minorities in the country. I’m proud to say that Real has tapped into being able to attack some of those. And as we release our data over the next upcoming month, we’ll show some of that data and some of those demographic data where we’re able to do that.

But we’ve got to ingrain it earlier in our lifecycle from a youth standpoint that getting and seeing help is part of it. We go get a physical every year, each one of us. It should be mandated that we do the same thing from our mental health standpoint. We should be seeing at least, at the very least, on an annual basis, if not more often, to do a mental wellness checkup.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: Certainly important there to recognize the importance of physical and mental health being made a priority. Thank you so much. Real’s CEO Ajay Khatri, thank you for your time this afternoon.

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