When I began working as a clinical advisor to Mantra Health in early 2019, I have to admit I was reticent, even cautious.
I had spent my entire career embedded in university mental health centers, and telepsychiatry was a relatively new modality for me. I had my reservations about whether a private, digitally-focused company could match the quality of in-person appointments that I felt students deserved. Like most university mental health center clinicians, however, I was witnessing first hand the growing surge of mental healthcare needs on our college campus, which was quickly outpacing the ability for existing care to meet the demand.
We simply could not hire our way out of the problem and, in the meantime, as suicide rates in our young people skyrocketed nationally and wait times for local mental health care options continued to grow, it was clear that more and more students were being left behind. I tried to search for options with an open mind, talking with colleagues about what their centers were doing, wishing for a better way to bring together excellent clinicians and patients in need.
I first heard of Mantra when a colleague sent me a link, noting how Mantra was trying to build something different: a personalized, evidence-based group of clinicians and a system that integrates with existing university services, designed to be a complement to the providers who already have their boots on the ground. I have to admit, I was intrigued.
I had plenty of fundamental questions during my first meeting with Mantra’s founders. What were their protocols for ensuring clinical excellence, how were they recruiting their providers, how did they decide which students were appropriate for telehealth care, what were they doing to ensure the cultural competence of their provider group, did they understand the importance of the provider-patient relationship in mental health treatment, were they prioritizing student health or head-counts?
Surprisingly, Mantra had plenty of questions for me. What did university health centers need, what did the student populations look like, what priorities and characteristics of a third party telehealth platform should Mantra have to provide excellent care? There seemed to be a genuine enthusiasm for not only increasing accessibility for patients, but also a commitment to making sure that the care provided was strongly evidence based, built on establishing clinical relationships and including students as working partners in their own health.
And it was not just lip service. Over the coming months, I was invited to join a group of highly respected, experienced professionals, like Dr. Harry Rockland-Miller, Director Emeritus of Counseling Services at UMASS Amherst, to work on developing the protocols and the priorities of Mantra as it began to envision a different approach to telehealth in the university setting, an approach that valued the role of existing services on campus and specifically built on the strengths and priorities of university-based care.
As a data-driven clinician, while Mantra’s approach took shape, I began to dig through the research on telehealth itself in transitional-aged youth. I was surprised to discover that The American Telemedicine Association, the American Psychiatric Association Telepsychiatry Practice Guidelines, and many other reputable sources presented ample evidence showing that telehealth is as effective as in person care for many, if not all, of the most common mental health challenges facing students, including ADHD, Depression, Anxiety, Eating Disorders, and even suicidality. Further, telehealth offers students access to a diverse, specialized group of mental health providers nationwide, unconstrained by an individual colleges’ ability to recruit and employ a large number of local staff.
As I continued to gain enthusiasm for telehealth as a modality, and Mantra as a company, I began to wonder: if we worked together to build a unique platform that allowed collaboration between counselors, prescribers, and patients and that linked other available resources such as crisis support, evidence-based mental health apps, and on-campus programs and clinicians, could our outcomes and our accessibility even outperform standard face-to-face care? Especially for marginalized cohorts, students of color, and those identifying as LGBTQ+ (all groups with a high need for services and greater barriers to treatment), I came to the conclusion that a telehealth program like Mantra could be an excellent answer to filling the gap between available campus resources and student demand.
Now, in 2021, looking over the effective partnerships with universities that Mantra has already created and feeling optimistic about what is yet to come, I am delighted to have the opportunity to transition from a clinical advisor to becoming the Medical Director of Wellround, Mantra’s provider group. Over the past several years, I have seen first hand the good that this company can do in college mental health and I am eager to help build on that success.
In this new role, I remain deeply committed to continuing Mantra’s mission to recruit diverse and culturally competent providers, ensure clinical excellence and build holistic and person-centered treatment approaches. If the last ten-years are any indication, mental health care needs on campus will continue to far outpace available local resources and I firmly believe that working with an innovative telehealth solution like Mantra is the best approach to ensuring students have the care that they need. Keeping an eye on where we have come from and never losing sight of the students we do this work for, I look forward to growing together in our dedication to bringing the best technology, the best evidence-based treatments and the best mental healthcare options to college and university students nationwide.