February 22 – 24, 2019, I attended my first HackMentalHealth (https://www.hackmentalhealth.care) Hack-A-Thon in New Haven, CT, USA at Yale University. Here a community of more than 200 digital mental health interesteds (yes, my word) including consumers, technologists, entrepreneurs, clinicians, researcher, advocates, caregivers assembled to work on solutions focused largely on suicide, substance abuse and data.
This is my 5th hack-a-thon and I always find them exhilarating for their diversity, networking and creativity, and when they are squarely focused on mental health, which is rarely the case, all the better. A young lady, Katie Young, who I met at the event, did a better job of articulating the value of this event, than I might so I will link to here for your edification: https://medium.com/hackmentalhealth/5-reasons-i-loved-my-first-hackathon-even-though-i-didnt-win-276be278180d.
What made this the G.O.A.T. of hack-a-thons for me is that it was designed for health, with not only hacking but also, a good night of sleep (atypical of these events), yoga/meditation sessions, educational “lightning talk” sessions on topics like programming, business models, the lived experiences of the mentally unwell, and ethics; and a “science fair” judging format that allowed a review of more ideas than a pitch could ever have allowed. This was an event, good for those who just wanted to network and be educated about the topic.
The event winner was Team FLIP. Their idea offered a browser plug-in which watches the content one views and offers additional balanced content suggestions to counter negative or damaging content that left unbalanced might tip a person towards mental unwellness, or worst, suicide. You can read about their solution, in their own words here: https://medium.com/hackmentalhealth/flip-changing-the-narrative-on-suicide-b008dfd5113b. This is one of the most novel idea I’ve seen in this space in a long time. I can’t wait to get this on my browsers. You can read about the other winners at this general post: https://link.medium.com/qU2Lf6QsLU.
Other insights I took away from my time at this event include:
1. Confirmation of the hunch that DMH investment remains largely a part of larger portfolios given the nascence of this space where evidence (perception), security, usability, and reimbursement are still significant hurdles to adoption being worked on. To date, I have only come across one DMH pure play, Iaso Ventures (https://iasoventures.com/). Please write if you know of others that have not come on my radar.
2. Realization of the fact that even as there is a chorus of possiblistic voices lauding the potential of digital mental health, there is also a complementary chorus cautioning us to proceed ethically and securely. During the weekend I met and had quite sobering discussions with colleagues associated with #MadPride. (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mad_Pride). I also met Jonah Bossewitch of Alchemical Musings (http://alchemicalmusings.org/) who schooled me on the risks of “surveillance psychiatry“ and only further accentuated the importance of a “RESPONSIBLE” adoption of digital in the mental health space. I cite this element of my experience because I do think it is important that there be heeded cautionary voices at these events to temper the exuberance which would otherwise exclusively rule the day. I think it is also important to distinguish this cohort from those who are against or who do not believe in the potential of digital mental health. They believe alright. They believe enough to take seriously the need for caution
3. A reminder that these events teach as much about leadership and politics as they do about innovation and technology. Because they attract the young and mature as well as the tech, scientific, commercial, academic, etc., you end us with highly diverse teams. In these teams worlds collide over style, world views, mental maps, credit for IP, etc. Sometimes sparks even fly. This event’s organizers and participants did a fabulous job of channeling that energy in productive directions.
4. Of the talks given, I enjoyed the one by Lucas Chae, a UX designer, who presented a most novel search engine UX approach to suicide crisis intervention making use of keyword analytics, “interactive and evolving content”, arresting pull quotations, storytelling, and psychologically effective color pallettes. In an era, where one of the most cited barriers to DMH adoption is usability, this was a powerful example of UX as a critical success factor. Watch a prototype of this novel solution here: https://youtu.be/kwvnAFAOLjg. Read about it in more detail here: https://uxdesign.cc/preventing-suicide-the-modern-way-86a816e2bf07.
This was a great event, the 4th HackMentalHealth has put on. I should disclose that I am one of their advisors, and thus biased. I am thinking about how to accelerate the rate at which these events can be produced in more diverse communities all over the country and the world. Check out HackMentalHealth (https://www.hackmentalhealth.care), subscribe to their newsletter, and contact them if interested in contributing to the movement they are helping to expand.