The OkToTalk Story
I started this service because when I needed mental health support, to get on top of my depression, it was a ridiculous struggle. It took about 6 goes before I found a therapist who could understand me, offer useful suggestions, and help me work within my own values to change the way my life was going.
What made this extra ridiculous is, I was doing a psych degree at the same time. All the stuff on the lecture slides was also stuff in my life. I knew so many fancy phrases for the circus going on around me and in my head, and that knowledge didn’t help a bit.
It ended up with me researching an antidepressant as my final year project, while I was prescribed that antidepressant at the same time, to try and keep a lid on my suicidal thoughts. I got through the year then didn’t go back.
Meanwhile, friends who heard I was doing psychology now would often say “it took me 5 goes to find the right psychologist. What is wrong with your profession?” And I’d tell them, “what’s wrong is there are good psychologists, almost all good psychologists — but you don’t just want a good psychologist, you want one who’s good for you.”
And that bit’s hard. Your GP is supposed to be wise and experienced and give you a personalised referral. Or he un-pins a ratty business card from his corkboard for someone he talked to at a medical conference in 1998. In my case, I got sent to the alphabetically first psychologist from a list in his computer. My therapy with Dr A. Aardvark didn’t work out.
Maybe you pass on Dr Aardvark and turn straight to Dr Google. Happy hunting through a list of 200 psychologists within 10km of your house. Unless of course you live in the country, where it’s 0 psychologists within 100km of your house. Need bulk billing? Call every phone number and ask. Want a psychologist with a style that might suit you? Gives homework? Shares strategies? Helps with goals? Forget it, every psych website is all where they went to uni + what associations they belong to + a list of disorders they treat.
So I ended up asking friends and colleagues if they’d seen a good psychologist. This works well, because your friends and colleagues are often quite similar to you and their recommendations will probably work. On the other hand it sucks because you have to tell all your friends and coworkers you might be crazy. My friends already knew I was crazy so I just did it and it worked.
It doesn’t solve the big problem though. There are 5 million Australians who need to be seeing a great psychologist, and only about 1 million of them are. We need a smart automated system that asks you what’s going on and suggests psychologists who are great at that thing, nearby, who you can afford. We need it to check in with you after each appointment, make sure your session went well, and look to see if your life is improving too.
So I’ve been building it. I’m building the system that I wish existed when I first needed a psychologist. Something I’m proud to tell friends, family, colleagues, people at conferences, other mental health services: I’ve built this thing that matches people with the right psychologist, send us all your friends who are sad so we can help them turn their lives around.
HCF, Australia’s largest not-for-profit health fund, saw our pitch early on and decided to back us financially. They invited us into their Catalyst startup accelerator programme, and we got a much-needed boost of knowledge and funding at a critical stage. I’m very grateful for their interest and involvement.
Since then we’ve been working hard on building a matching system that accounts for dozens of things that clients need, are, want, have, or said; plus hundreds of facts about psychologists; plus the feedback and treatment results coming from appointments. We’re devoted to evidence-based practice, and more than 810 versions of the service have been crafted and launched. Our research and development programme is recognised by AusIndustry.
Our social media outreach puts us in touch with ordinary Australians who might be struggling with their lives, thoughts, or emotions. These are the 80% of people who need help but will never do anything to get it, unless we can reach them and show them that there are people who care and there are answers for them.
We’ve now helped thousands of people live their best lives through mental health support. Our 5000+ appointments have an average satisfaction rating of 4.9 stars. Our staff tell me it’s an honour to work for a service that has this kind of impact on Australian lives. We make check-in calls to our clients and hearing the progress that people are making along with their psych just warms our hearts.
There is no other service like ours. Whether it’s the sophisticated data science that makes the matches happen, the staff who are dedicated caring humans making sure no client slips through the cracks, the clients who have often never tried to access mental health before but have decided to trust us, or the psychologists who haven’t seen anything like us before but are prepared to support a service that sits well with their own aim of bringing psychological support to all Australians.
Our growth priorities for 2019:
- continue to improve the matching system so we get more people to a great psychologist first time
- partner with other mental health services so they can send us people who need a great psychologist
- partner with GPs so they can use our service to make great referrals for their patients
Can you help? If you have contacts with mental health services or GPs we should partner with, please make the introduction.