Behavidence, the digital phenotyping company we founded in June 2020, started its journey in the middle of a global pandemic. Sound familiar? There are a multitude of posts about new initiatives that kicked-off during this weird and uncommon time.
Whilst writing this blog, the virus has infected 106,000,000 people and more than 2,000,000 died according to official numbers. The global economy has been stunted and highlighted to all of us how incredibly vulnerable we are — lockdown after lockdown. Moreover, we all got a hefty dose of experiencing the effects of mental health turbulence, whether it be depressed mood, anxiety, or stress.
Let’s put things in perspective. The numbers of Covid-19 are very troubling — and we are all living it and experiencing it. Yet,there is a terrifying pandemic that is even bigger that has been going on for decades -The Mental Health Pandemic.
Yes, I know we have all heard world leaders speaking about mental health issues and how serious it is; but, before you go to your next read or browse your feed, here are some numbers to highlight this impact: :
- 237,962,000 life years will be lost by 2030 from Neuropsychiatric disorders of which
- 93,000,000 life years will be lost due to Unipolar depression
- “Only” 181,000,000 will be lost due to Cancer by the same time
- And “Only” 132,000,000 due to respiratory diseases
Source: Prince et al., 2007
Now let’s go back to Covid-19, the “Thing” right now. In this past year during the pandemic, scientists have developed both blood and nasal diagnostic tests with high accuracy, and more than 6 types of vaccinations have been tested.
Meanwhile, a disorder that takes more lives than many other disorders, including Covid-19, has no diagnostic blood test or biomarker, and is diagnosed by a psychiatrist, GP or other clinicians through questionnaires ( that were developed decades ago) and consultations which are one-off and often biased.
Prescriptions are prescribed like candy to millions of people based on that antiquated questionnaire — with a less than 50% efficacy rate and plenty of side-effects.
Back to Covid-19, imagine that the same diagnostic methods and approach to treatment that are currently used for Depression were applied to Covid-19?
1.) Diagnosis through a questionnaire (i.e: Did you have fever in the last two weeks? Is it hard to breath?)
2.) No biological signs required (Blood, Saliva, Imaging. Just a questionnaire and subjective responses)
3.) Medications with no clear proven biological mechanism — Hydroxychloroquinine? Bleach?
By anyone’s standards, this would be ridiculous, judging by the world’s reaction to Donald Trump’s suggestion to inject disinfectant as a cure for Covid-19!
Yet, this disorder that is fuzzily defined and broadly grouped, is taking millions of lives per year without a clear biomarker or behavioural markers, while pharmacological companies are making millions of drugs that are as effective as placebo. (Moncireff, 2005)
We have not taken into consideration the biases in the diagnosis, the biases in the pharma research behind the drugs, and our own subjective biases when filling out these questionnaires when we feel extremely bad or good.
This is why we started Behavidence. We wanted to help change the negative trajectory that mental health diagnosis and treatment is spiralling down on. We have created an application that is based on ongoing mapping of your digital behaviour and can track changes in your mental health with 3 times the accuracy of a clinician.
As a Disruptor in the industry, we meet a lot of opposition: from clinicians to investors. . Yet our initial trials with more than 1,500 patients with various mental disorders show a clear and consistent predictive result — with greater accuracy than the questionnaires.
The other challenge we are facing is that we are currently democratizing and demonetizing the screening process, by giving the control and always-on monitoring capability to the patient. I was shocked to see how investors find it so hard to accept that a health diagnosis and screening app can be marketed directly to consumers.
My takeaway from the past 8 months is that we HAVE to disrupt the way mental health conditions are approached. Too many lives are being taken from us, too many ineffective drugs are being sold, too much money is being made, and too many people suffer daily.
We will join forces with whoever has the same passion and goal to disrupt this elephant in the room, and we will not veer off course — irrespective of funding or not. We have a passionate and dedicated team of disruptors who will create the change that is needed.
I’m 100% sure it will pay off. For people suffering from depression, for clinicians struggling with diagnosis and for our investors as well. When you do the right thing — money follows. The app will generate income from early on, and being affordable to everyone, the numbers will grow.
But for me, the pay off will be in lives saved, quality of lives improved and in my own personal happiness.