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Why I Co-Founded Prairie Health

TL;DR — I’m Benson, one of the co-founders of Prairie Health. As someone who struggled to seek psychiatric care, I’m proud to be a part of Prairie. We’re dedicated to making mental healthcare work for you by offering the kind of care that I wish I had.

CW — I talk a lot about depression in this piece. I also talk a lot about where I think mental healthcare is bad. That said, if you are someone whose mental health adversely affects your day-to-day, I recommend seeing a professional. Every part of your journey can be difficult — from finding a place that takes your insurance to working with providers that may not understand you — but know that many people have been in our shoes, and that there is a way to feel better than you do today.

I’m not sure when I would say I started feeling depressed.

I know that, when I was an eighteen-year-old, I was so excited about everything. Every day, I would wake up, and I couldn’t wait to start my day; there was just so much I wanted to do. I also know that, a few years later, there would be weeks where I could barely make it out of bed. But at the moment, it never occurred to me that I could be depressed.

Me, at 19, on the left. It’s a day I remember well, in part because it’s one of the few days I felt like myself,
the kind of day that started feeling less and less common over the years.

I remember trying to wash some dishes that day, and I just couldn’t. It sounds ridiculous, but whenever I would try to wash the dishes, some compulsion would come over me, and before I knew it, the day ended, and the dishes were still dirty.

Given my inability to wash dishes, I decided I needed help. I found a therapist and a psychiatrist through my insurance, and I’ve been working with them to manage my mental health. Nowadays, I feel so much more in control of my life.

However, just because I feel better today does not mean that the journey was easy.

It took me a month-and-a-half to finally see my psychiatrist. By talking to others about their experiences, and reflecting on my own, I’ve realized how challenging getting care can be. For many, this can be a demoralizing process. You have to overcome the stigma that prevents people, especially people of color, from seeking care. You have to find a clinic that can take new patients. You have to act as a middle man between your insurance and the clinic. You have to wait weeks and weeks to see a provider. And even when you start seeing a psychiatrist, it’s likely that you will end your treatment prematurely.

I started receiving care when I was halfway through the school year. Between studying and working an odd job, it was hard to make my appointments. When I missed an appointment with my therapist and tried to re-schedule, I found that the only available slot was a month later. In the end, I went about two months without seeing my providers. It’s no surprise to me that many patients never overcome their depression. It’s too easy to slip up.

To make matters worse, there’s also a chance that your treatment will not work. For example, when I did my initial intake, I mentioned that I thought I might have bipolar. But the intake specialist insisted that this wasn’t a possibility. Fortunately, my psychiatrist thought differently. He prescribed me a first-line medication for bipolar, which had worked wonders for me.

However, a majority of bipolar patients are misdiagnosed. If I was misdiagnosed, I would likely have been prescribed a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or SSRI. And as a result, my condition likely would not have improved.

I’m not a psychiatrist, but from what I understand, SSRI monotherapy for bipolar is controversial. And I know that I shouldn’t trust a small sample size, but many of my friends with bipolar have told me about the severe side effects they have had with SSRIs, including increased suicidal ideation. I think about my intake often. I’m not sure where I would be if my medication made my mental health worse. Like many other patients, I don’t think I would have continued seeking care. I’m not sure if I ever would have been better.

Unfortunately, my story is far from unique. Many people who seek treatment leave prematurely, as shown by the red and orange slices.
Data is based upon the STAR*D trial.

This is where my story with Prairie begins.

Maurice, the CEO of Prairie and more importantly, a close friend since the start of college, talked about this startup he was working on over dinner. And I couldn’t help but notice that the issues he wanted to tackle were exactly the issues I had faced while seeking care. So when Maurice asked if I wanted to work with him, I didn’t think twice.

And this is why I’m proud to be a part of Prairie. We’re working hard to help people that are just like me. This means receiving care from the comfort of home. This means providing support throughout the care process. For me, as a computer scientist, this means working to bring data-driven insights to our psychiatrists, to prevent, amongst other things, medication mismatches.

To learn more about what we’re working on, please see our website. If you have any questions, feel free to contact inquiry@prairiehealth.co. And if you want to message me in particular, feel free to email me at benson@prairiehealth.co.

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Fri Sep 11 2020

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