In this edition of the Healthcare Innovators Series (HCIS), we chat with Katherine Grill, PhD, CEO & Co-founder, Neolth, a technology company that provides personalized mental health support to teens through a self-guided platform.
Grill discusses how Neolth helps make mental health more accessible for teens, the launch of a new version of the platform, the impact COVID-19 has had on the mental health of young people, and more.
AvoMD: What problem does your company solve for the healthcare industry?
Katherine: In October 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association issued a joint statement calling the pandemic-related decline in adolescent mental health a national emergency. The Surgeon General testified in front of Congress in February 2022 that more solutions emphasizing prevention and school-based intervention were needed, with the President restating the call for additional mental health services in his 2022 State of the Union. While telehealth companies have started to address the mental health crisis by offering virtual therapy, there’s still a major gap in the market for Tier 1, self-guided interventions.
Tier 1 interventions provide coping skills for stress management, mental health education, and stigma reduction. There are enormous benefits of offering Tier 1 interventions at a young age, so that mental health is normalized and at-risk children are identified as early as possible. Implementing Tier 1 interventions in the schools maximizes engagement in mental health programs by creating an environment where mental health is discussed with peers and trusted adults on a regular basis. Providing Tier 1 programs for all students within a school-setting decreases stigma, increases help-seeking, and empowers students to develop the knowledge and skills they need to cope with life’s stressors.
At Neolth, we recognized a need to make Tier 1 mental health support more accessible, affordable and de-stigmatized for teens. That’s why we partnered with nearly 300 young people to build the Neolth platform and mobile app. Our app offers on-demand content in the form of personalized relaxation practices, educational videos, stigma-reducing videos about lived experiences, and health tracking features. Our Natural Language Processing system monitors teens 24/7 for signs of depression, suicidality and self-harm and makes real-time referrals to crisis care as needed. With our technology, Neolth provides both Tier 1 mental health support and seamless care escalation to Tier 2 and 3 services. More information about how Neolth helps teens and young adults in this 2-minute explainer video.
AvoMD: What technologies are you most excited about this year?
Katherine: This year we launched an educator version of the Neolth platform! This exciting update allows teachers to integrate our mental health practices and videos into their curriculum, as part of Department of Education mandates. Of late, more and more states are requiring their schools to incorporate social-emotional learning and mental health into their curriculum. Two years into the pandemic, educators are incredibly burnt out and often lack formal mental health training, making it difficult for them to create their own curriculum. With Neolth, educators have instant access to on-demand mental health content that meets state curriculum guidelines. We are excited to offer a free educator version for schools to try out the program, and a premium version that offers more content and features.
We’re also excited about technologies that go beyond ‘band aid SEL’ to provide integrated support and care escalation. The behavioral healthcare system in the US has historically been fragmented. Digital innovation should address this problem, not exacerbate it. Schools and students are realizing that programs which provide basic mindfulness or SEL content, without accompanying analytics and care escalation, are problematic. School counselors and psychologists need to be able to receive data from Tier 1 programs to track outcomes and effectiveness, identify at-risk students, and refer them to the proper clinical care. Neolth uses our healthcare analytics portal to securely share progress reports, alerts, and aggregate data about the student body. Additionally, our Natural Language Processing system monitors teens 24/7 for signs of depression, suicidality and self-harm and makes real-time referrals to crisis care. Through automating data analytics, alerts and care escalation, Neolth enables schools to stay informed about students’ health, catch at-risk youth immediately, and reduce the workload for overburdened school counselors.
AvoMD: How has Covid-19 impacted innovation in your company?
Katherine: COVID-19 has drastically damaged youth mental health in America. The Surgeon General released a youth mental health advisory, urging schools to get more involved in supporting their students’ mental health. The Department of Education has provided guidelines and mandates about mental health curriculum, which sparked the development of Neolth’s educator version. Overall, the silver lining of the pandemic is that it has encouraged schools (and the country) to adopt innovative solutions that support youth mental health. It’s helped put student mental health at the forefront of funding and programmatic discussions, and helped Neolth with our expansion throughout schools.
COVID-19 has also helped our company better understand the mental health needs of young people. With school closures in 2020 and 2021, millions of young people were stuck at home. Looking for hobbies and ways to connect with peers, there was an influx of interest from students (700 inbound requests!) in working with Neolth. The company established both a Student Advisory Council and Ambassador Program. These students have provided us with valuable feedback about the product, enabling us to build a highly engaging app.
Furthermore, as a digital company Neolth was well-equipped to analyze and adapt to the changing needs of youth amidst the pandemic. At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw sharp increases in loneliness related to social isolation during school closures. After a few months, productivity and attention issues were a main concern due to Zoom fatigue and distance learning. Through conducting regular needs assessments on the app, the company was able to understand teens’ needs in a rapidly shifting landscape. This propelled us to create content that directly addressed the most pressing needs of students and use our algorithm to match each student to personalized content in real-time.
AvoMD: What are the challenges healthcare companies face with technology adoption?
Katherine: Digital health is a new, emerging field. We’ve seen a learning curve when it comes to understanding what digital health is, especially since the rise of telehealth. Educating the public on digital resources outside of telehealth is crucial, as it helps education and healthcare communities understand how to implement a Stepped Model of Care or Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS)
Providing a combination of Tier 1, 2 and 3 resources within the Stepped Model/MTSS framework is the gold standard. However, healthcare has long utilized a medical model of care. Under this model, patients wait until they are sick to seek help and thus Tier 2 and 3 supports are prioritized. To put it plainly, this means waiting until your child is feeling depressed or suicidal to get them help. Waiting until this point greatly increases the chance of a crisis. Through educational discussions with students, educators, and healthcare leaders, we can shift the standard from a medical model of care to a preventative one. Such a model provides an enhanced care continuum that emphasizes (mental) health education, stigma reduction, and help-seeking with care escalation to clinical and crisis services. Tier 1 services are the ultimate tools that the country needs to successfully combat the youth mental health crisis.
AvoMD: What is your favorite blog, website, author for health tech insights and inspiration?
For digital health insights, I use Rock Health weekly. It provides thought-pieces, trends in the field and digital health investment data.
Dr. Katherine Grill is the CEO and co-founder of Neolth, a technology company that provides personalized mental health support to teens through a self-guided platform. Prior to founding Neolth, she worked at Children's National pediatric hospital conducting NIH research, co-founded a community health program for young adults, taught psychology at American University and neuroscience at the California Institute of Integral Studies.
Dr. Grill received a BS in Art Therapy, MA in Psychology, and a PhD in Behavioral Neuroscience. She has expertise in school-based mental health and using digital interventions with adolescents and young adults (AYAs).
Dr. Grill is passionate about using technology to increase access to mental health care. She has won numerous awards including being selected for Forbes 30 Under 30 list in the 2022 education category; winning the 2021 Lyfebulb-Loyola University Chicago Public Health Innovation Challenge; 2021 Timmy Finalist for Best Tech for Good in San Francisco; 2020 Startup of the Year EdTech award; Top 100 Startup in 2020 by SOTY; and Top 100 company in 2020 by Pepperdine University. She was featured in Forbes alongside the founders of Bumble and Zypher in 2021 as a leading female founder and was honored with a display on the Nasdaq Tower in Times Square in 2020.