A will to effect change within the mental health industry for the greater good of the global population has become a reality for Dr. Andres Fonseca. He chats to Business Matters about his inspiration and journey…
As CEO and Co-Founder of his company and app Thrive, Dr. Andres Fonseca has revolutionised access to mental health, in fact no fewer than three million people access Thrive globally. Challenging antiquated systems that failed to meet a patient’s needs in this crucial area of treatment, Andres has done what he was told couldn’t be done and created evidence-based digital tools to detect, prevent and treat mental health conditions.
Andres, thank you for joining us, what was the inspiration behind Thrive?
I trained in the NHS as a consultant psychiatrist and one of the recurring themes for me is that services were mostly designed for my convenience, rather than that of my patients. For example, I remember sitting in my clinic waiting for patients to come in to see me and picking up a thin folder for the last slot in the clinic. I was intrigued as a thin folder usually indicates a new patient, but this was not a new patient slot. I saw three letters of referral from the GP followed by three letters to the patient inviting her to come to the clinic and two letters discharging her for not attending her appointment. Each GP letter was more desperate, making the point that this lady had quite severe agoraphobia and required a home visit. Had I stayed in my comfortable office she would have received yet another discharge letter. Even after I saw her, she was not going to get any joy. The best treatment for her was CBT but she would require home visits and some support from someone to work with her on progressively leaving her house. I spoke to the psychology department and I was told that the waiting list was 18 months, and not to bother referring as they did not do any home visits at all.
When did your passion for change become prevalent?
After finishing my training, I discovered I had a passion for service design. I love seeing patients, but I can’t help but try to improve access to services and to redesign the process so that it’s easier for people. As a newly qualified consultant I tried to redesign my service so that we could see elderly patients closer to where they lived in their local GP surgery, rather than at the hospital. I tried for one year to deal with the NHS bureaucracy to no avail. I also tried to set up a service for young people presenting with memory problems. I again was defeated by ‘that is not the way we do things’ mentality.
Enter Thrive …
Yes, Thrive came from a desire to provide a means for people to be in control of their mental healthcare. Something that helped people with prevention, was capable of screening for mental health conditions and enabled direct access to psychological therapies at the touch of a button without any barriers. We also wanted to make it so that the user would never have to pay for it, so a challenge was to design the right business model to enable that all the way from prevention to intervention. We also wanted to have clinical need dictate the number of sessions offered, rather than a strict ‘you only get six sessions’ type of arrangement. Thrive is an attempt to solve that problem, enable individuals to have immediate access to the right level of intervention for their mental health regardless of their situation.
Have you seen a rise in customers during the lockdown and coming out into the recovery phase?
COVID-19 has been a difficult time for many of us and with that comes a range of different struggles people have been experiencing. Over the past few months, we have seen an increase in downloads not only from those that are finding it hard, but from people that are considered well and are just looking to support their mental wellbeing and prevent mental health conditions occurring.
Our entire team has worked so hard to ensure that we’re supporting as many people as we possibly can whilst adapting to the current climate. Supporting over 3 million employees globally through our amazing partners and providing the app through the NHS, we have seen an increase in the number of people through spikes in lockdown, but as mentioned seeing the recovery statistics reminds each of us and Thrive why we do what we have been doing.
Have employers been quick to realise the benefits of Thrive within their firms?
Every partner that we work with has invested in Thrive because they see the benefit of a seamless and accessible mental health tool for their workforce. With download numbers, recoveries and engagement increasing month on month, we know our partners are seeing the benefits of Thrive within their organisations. It has been great to see how proactive everyone has been in response to the ever-changing situation. At Thrive we work closely with all of our partners to ensure a mental health focus translates back into the workplace.
How do you see Thrive progressing over the next year?
One word: growth! Our focus this year is on growing our dedicated team, investing in supporting our partners, developing further content and increasing engagement on all levels. We hope to support even more millions this year and are always working on improving the app. We plan to focus on development; making our therapist service 24/7, recruiting passionate individuals and continuing to grow our partner base. With all of that in mind, we want to see recoveries, even higher uptake rates and usage numbers continuing to increase.
Who do you admire?
I have always admired healthcare workers. These are the staff that provide day to day support to individuals who are affected by a severe and enduring mental health condition. These are the people that help them cook, get out of the house, pay their bills and keep themselves healthy. They typically make minimum wage, so instead of doing something like working in a supermarket, these heroes do some of the hardest work one can face and are there for patients through their most difficult times. They should be paid much, much more, even though they clearly do it because they truly care.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
Many things! The problem is that you never know what are the things that you need to do differently while you are in the situation. It is inevitable to get some things wrong, so you need to cultivate an anti-fragile attitude. For me that means that I need to take care to minimise any and all risks that I am aware of, so I can detect when things are going wrong as early as possible, take decisive action to correct them as best as I can and then learn from the experience so that I don’t repeat it again.