When he was 10 years old, Patrick Gilligan’s childhood struggles with food began. Put on a calorie-restricted diet by a doctor, the regimen left him embarrassed and alone, causing what would become an eating disorder that lasted more than a decade. “I still look back on all the time I spent as a teen crushed by stigma and afraid to talk about mental health with my friends and family,” says the Stanford graduate.
Years later, when a high school classmate took their In his own life, Gilligan felt compelled to leave his master’s degree at Stanford – where he previously earned a product design degree – to help solve the childhood psychiatric crisis.
called SomethingGilligan’s now 14-month-old New York-based startup is the result of that effort. As Gilligan describes it, Somethings is one youth-specific wellness platform that connects teens with trained mentors between the ages of 19 and 26 for asynchronous help.
The product itself is quite simple. Teens, often with the support of their parents, are matched through the Somethings system with mentors with similar backgrounds and situational experiences. Unlike traditional clinicians, teens can communicate asynchronously with mentors in smaller bursts or at specific intervals.
Mentors must first apply, complete a background check and complete two intensive training modules. The first is a Medicaid-funded state provider-led peer specialist training program; the second is a custom internal program developed by Somethings and built in conjunction with the U.S. government’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
The product is not yet refundable to teens and is not HIPAA compliant, though Somethings claims no data is leaving the platform.
Somethings does not claim to be a clinical provider. Rather, it provides essential core support and a connectivity infrastructure that resonates with the next generation.
Traditional clinical models fail to satisfy the modern teen
The company has already attracted investors who understand the company’s pitch, which is that modern teens and traditional mental health care are not a good fit. Indeed, General Catalyst just led the company’s $3.2 million seed round with participation from Tau Ventures, Toyin Ajayi (co-founder of Cityblock Health), MVP Ventures and more.
The data helps tell the story — and highlights the opportunity. According to the CDC, as many as 40% of teens in the United States are consistently sad or hopeless. That is about 19 million young people who need support. Further, while 30% of children and adolescents develop anxiety, only 20% seek treatment, per the Child Mind Institute (CMI). “Teens are more likely to seek mental help from friends, relatives, or other non-professional resources than from a therapist or counselor,” the CMI reports.
While lack of access is part of the problem, another barrier, Gilligan believes, is that the “traditional” mental health care most of us are accustomed to — sitting for an hour with a licensed physician, or texting a professional who has no relevance to our lived experience – may not suit the modern teenager. In contrast, the Journal of Psychiatry in 2018 described the effectiveness of youth mental health mentoring over rigid counseling models.
Somethings bets that by creating an asynchronous mentorship model where teens can converse with relatable figures at their leisure, teens will be more open and willing to receive support for the struggles they face.
What about the parents and the clinicians
Somethings emphasizes the importance for parents of creating spaces for teens to interact with mentors, while also allowing the mentors to connect with parents and provide general updates.
Parents are expected to adhere to the Somethings vision and values communicated when the teen joins the platform.
Yet parents are not left out of the dynamics. “It’s a balance,” says Gilligan. “The relation [between mentor and teen] does not work if there is no confidentiality. At the same time, it is also very frustrating for parents who are cut out of their relationship. . . We have a responsibility to involve parents in the relationship and help them support their teenage years together with the mentor.”
The model seems to work. While the Somethings team is still developing the technology infrastructure to track success metrics, there is reportedly little dropout in early testing.
Mentors are trained in everything from communication to recognizing when a teen needs clinical care and referring them appropriately. Gilligan declined to share clinical partner names for privacy reasons.
Obviously Somethings has to do with competition. BetterHelp is just one of many mental health startups to emerge in recent years, a fact Gilligan is aware of. However, he thinks Somethings stands alone, both in its explicit focus on younger people in need of help and in the tools it has designed for them to contact a mentor. not on a pre-set schedule, but when they most need a helping hand.
Whether it’s enough to create a moat for Somethings will only become known over time, but the shift in the mental health model is something to watch.