When I attended the recent Innovative Learning Conference, I participated in a session by Faye Sahai, the managing director of Vinaj, a company that invests in mental health innovative solutions and startups to address depression, anxiety, and suicide in young people. I found her presentation, Mental Health Innovations, and Possibilities, eye-opening and encouraging. After the conference, I spoke with Faye and asked her to share some of the information from her presentation with all of you.
How did you become involved in the mental health innovation space?
I’m a mother. I’m the daughter of a pediatrician. I’m a friend. I serve on a university research board. I’m a human committed to making the world better where I can.
I have seen first-hand the devastating effects when a family member suffers from depression and anxiety. I’ve watched friends lose a child to suicide. I’ve grieved with them and for them and for such a loss of life much too early.
Seeing the increase of anxiety, depression, and stress in our community made me want to make a positive change. How could I contribute personally?
My background in innovation and healthcare helped me become part of the Telosity team with Anish Srivastava, the CEO and Founder of Vinaj, a company focused on innovation consulting and venture investing and the parent company of Telosity. When I led the innovation lab and innovation fund at Kaiser Permanente, I was working on innovative health and mental health solutions for young people.
During my work at Kaiser, we explored and tested new approaches to health, such as addressing phobias with virtual reality immersions that were effective in accelerating a patient’s treatment and gamifying mental health assessments for young people.
Those findings never were far from my mind when I would consider what more we could do to improve mental health for young adults. You always hear you have to meet people where they are. For young adults, that is usually on their phones. That’s why we see so much potential to improve mental well-being through mobile-based solutions and are seeking to invest in early-stage companies that can deliver effective, engaging tools or services through a smartphone.
What do you wish parents and educators knew about how technology and innovation can help their children and students?
As a parent, I understand how we want the best tools to help our children, no matter the age, for them to thrive and manage with all of the new technological challenges and advancements. After researching and looking at hundreds of different solutions, I wanted to share what I have learned as the managing director of Telosity Fund, investing in digital wellness for young people.
1. Each child is so different, and though something can work successfully for one child – be open to options for what works best for your child.
2. Technology and innovation are rapidly changing and evolving with new possibilities and questions.
A wonderful free new mobile application, but what do they do with my data?
· Encourage open communication through multiple channels with kids about how they are doing, feeling, and being so they can have multiple ways they can connect to you whether talking while you are driving, walk together, write notes and put them in their backpack, text, or video chats, etc.
· Learn, practice, and role model resilience and social-emotional skills like mindfulness, goal setting, self-acceptance, failing as part of the learning process; share your failures and journey.
· Figure out how and when to introduce technology to your children and create agreements (role modeling, not sleeping with phones and charging outside bedroom, not to have phones during meals together, friending each other on social media). We have seen parents collaborate at school to agree on guidelines so you preempt the kids responding, “all my friends can do this …why can’t I?”
Apps you may want to consider trying:
· Manatee empowers families raising children with behavioral or developmental disorders by gamifying treatment and tracking progress.
· Enable My Child, a pediatric telehealth company that diagnoses and provides occupational, speech, and behavioral therapy.
· Flipd is a smartphone app that allows users to explore, try, and buy wellness tools and content while also providing insights to create healthy phone engagement and foster better time management.
What exactly is Telosity, and what is its purpose?
Research shows that over the last decade, educators, pediatricians, and parents have seen an increase in anxiety, depression, and stress in young people. Young people, as well, recognize the mental health crisis in their generation, with 70% of teens citing anxiety and depression as a “major problem” for their peers. Telosity’s goal is to harness technology to shift this trend to one where more young people are mentally well and equipped to handle the challenges and stressors life will inevitably throw at them.
Telosity aims to do this by investing in early-stage startups with affordable and accessible solutions to increase the mental well-being of people between the ages of 10 and 24 years old. We are focused on identifying and funding scalable tech-enabled interventions that do at least one of the following —
1) increase access to care and support services for mild to moderate sufferers of anxiety and depression,
2) cultivate self-care habits that increase mental wellness,
3) bolster social and emotional skills and positive behavior, and
4) foster positive online experiences and interactions.
Additionally, we look for companies that show early evidence of potential to become for-profit startups with founders who are passionate, tenacious, and want every young person to have the opportunity to live a healthy life.
What has been the biggest surprise to you so far?
The biggest surprise to date has been the different ways startups are tackling these issues. While I was hopeful and optimistic when we started Telosity in early 2019, I appreciate the creativity, the brilliance, the commitment, and the unbridled passion these founders have for this need in our communities. The solutions span from self-care and skill-building, improved the online experience and support services, to access and assessment.
Tell us about one of Telosity’s success stories.
I mentioned Stop Breathe & Think earlier. The founders saw an opportunity to leverage technology to impact youth mental health and well-being positively. The Stop, Breathe, & Think app was born after the team identified that there was no streamlined, comprehensive, or engaging tool to help young people develop self-care habits that foster mental well-being and/or manage their anxiety and depression. Stop, Breathe & Think created a very engaging format designed to guide users through meditations and mindfulness activities to alleviate stress, anxiety, depression, and improve their sense of well-being. Their unique approach attracted Meredith Corporation, a media and marketing company, to acquire them. Meredith owns Parents, InStyle, and dozens of other well-known brands. We are excited to watch Stop, Breathe & Think grow and help young people everywhere.
What’s next for Telosity?
Our Telosity team is looking for more innovative technology-based solutions to improve young people’s mental health and well-being. We can’t wait to find what is next in this important, groundbreaking work. It’s a very gratifying and humbling way to make a difference.
 Horowitz, J.M., & Graf, N. (2019, Feb. 20) Most U.S. Teens See Anxiety and Depression as a Major Problem Among Their Peers. Retrieved from: https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2019/02/20/most-u-s-teens-see-anxiety-and-depression-as-a-major-problem-among-their-peers/
Faye Sahai is based in the San Francisco Bay Area where she serves as Managing Director of Vinaj Ventures and Telosity. Her vast background in innovation within healthcare and financial services plus her experience advising companies to maximize their potential through diversity and inclusion gives her a unique and valuable perspective to help both corporate entities and, most importantly, the people within them.