Mental Health

Free COVID-19 pandemic mental health sessions from the startup Real

A startup called Real is launching an innovative mental health clinic offering annual mental health check-ups, group sessions, and one-on-one sessions in their first clinic in New York. They are also launching an online platform offering free mental health sessions for people in the state of New York for one month as a response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Real’s vision is to make the annual mental health check-in a part of our self care similar to an annual physical. They also want us to celebrate mental health.

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The free group sessions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic will be weekly for a month on a specific focus, like parenting while quarantined with your children, where participants can speak to a licensed therapist. Also available are events on specific topics like your physical response to trauma and one-on-one mental health check-ins with one of the therapists. Because practitioners are only allowed to practice in the state where they are licensed, these sessions are only available to people living in New York State. The number of spaces are limited and people can sign up on their website.

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The first Real Studios clinic is in New York and focused on providing for people who identify as women. Part of their philosophy is that practitioners get better when they treat similar conditions repeatedly. For that reason, their therapists have received specialized training that gears towards women’s mental health. They are knowledgeable on issues like well-being, fertility and parenting. “What does it mean to be a woman today?” says founder Ariela Safira. “And what does it mean to be a woman in tech versus a woman in finance, etc.?” They’re also ready to provide resources and referrals.

Real was inspired by an experience with a friend who attempted suicide during college, says Safira. “I asked doctors, I asked her nurses…what were their goals for her in rehab or in the hospital? And they couldn’t even answer…what success looks like for her.” 

The inpatient facilities Safira saw were dehumanizing and the rehab center had very little programming throughout the day. Her friend was placed in a room with a person who would wake up screaming in the middle of the night, “an environment that I think would lead any person to feel fear and uncertainty,” says Safira. Following that, she went on a mission to learn more about what people need in those situations.

Safira spent time in Liverpool to work at Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust, one of the most innovative mental wards, then joined IDEO New York, a human-centered design firm, where she focused on talking to people who have attempted suicide and people who identify as depressed to “capture the full user journey.”

Part of what’s come out of that is the treatment pathways that they will offer at Real Studios. Instead of stepping into a therapist’s office with an unknown timeline or plan, each pathway consists of 12 weeks with a topic of focus. The timeline can be adjusted, but both the therapist and person know going in that they’ll have this set amount of time to work on things.

The Real Studio in New York was designed with all of those experiences in mind. There’s a front porch to each therapy room where the person can write notes and gather their thoughts. There’s a room that is designed to feel like the inside of a tissue box where someone can cry or shout, whatever they need. There are other areas that are meant for any members to relax.

“We just need a much more thoughtful approach,” says Safira. “What do they need to start care in the first place, and then have good care around the experience?”

For more mental health resources, check the American Psychiatric Association page and check with your local clinics to see if they are offering online sessions.

For up-to-date information about COVID-19, check the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. For updated global case counts, check this page maintained by Johns Hopkins University.

You can follow Chia-Yi Hou on Twitter.

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