Why you should care

Startups and behemoths are betting that technology has the power to get mental health care off the expensive therapist couch — and into the lives of more people who need it.

With every random shooting in this country, our need for better access to preventative mental healthcare grows more glaringly obvious.

Following early e-talk entrants such as Pretty Padded Room in 2011, a growing number of for-profit businesses are turning their attention to the field – and bringing new technology with them. While it’s not uncommon to find individual therapists offering sessions by Skype and video-conferencing technology, this new wave of companies seeks to widen the net – not only by offering easier access to care, but also through cheaper alternatives to traditional therapy designed for people without severe diagnoses.

“Stigma, access and cost challenges prevent most people from getting mental health care,” says Alejandro Foung, co-founder and CEO of San Francisco-based mental healthcare platform ThriveOn , winner in the healthcare category at this year’s South by Southwest Accelerator Awards.

So to fix that, this summer, Foung and a team that includes doctors and psychiatrists from Stanford University and Washington University in St. Louis plan to release a mobile mental healthcare tool that offers people access to personalized counseling programs. Plus, virtual communication tools for reaching licensed, practicing therapists via smartphone for monthly fees that are far less than the cost of the average, out-of-pocket therapy session. On-demand access to a therapist for $5 to $10 a month? Sign me up.

Last year, Vice President Joe Biden announced $100 million in government funding to increase access to mental health services by offering up the oft-cited assessment that “less than half of children and adults with diagnosable mental health problems receive the treatment they need.”

Well, at least tech is trying. Along with services for diagnosable mental health conditions, there are now even e-options for those seeking support for everyday problems. You know, like cafeteria cliques.

5 Therapy Providers in the Palm of Your Hand

Give an Hour via Google Helpouts : Launched in November, available to veterans and their family members, this web-based service gives a free hour of therapy or counseling from a professional provider delivered via live video. A built-in calendar feature makes it easy to schedule sessions in advance.

ThriveOn : When it launches to the public this summer, the mobile platform will offer two-to-three month programs designed to address three core areas of focus: body image, stress management and anxiety reduction. The cost? Foung estimates individual programs will run just $35 to $85 per month (yes, you read that right: per month, not per hour) — with maintenance care available for $5 to $10 a month after the completion of an initial program.

Blush : Offers online life coaching on topics like friends vs. frenemies, dating, body image and academic pressure aimed at high school and college-aged girls with video counseling and web-based written responses in an online log. Trained counselors and monthly subscriptions start at $79.

Pretty Padded Room : This female-focused destination for finding licensed therapists and counselors makes it possible to video chat or text with a therapist or type up thoughts in a digital journal for feedback. Pay-as-you-go sessions cost $45; $250 a month buys eight half-hour-long video chats.

Talk Session : Aiming to be an online matchmaker for patients and providers, the web-based platforms currently in development from this company will make it possible for patients to search for and find relevant therapists online and for providers to schedule hours with patients in need of remote counseling, then deliver sessions over tablet devices.*

*Due to an editing error, TalkSession was mistakenly described as a relationship counseling service. We have subsequently corrected the article for accuracy.

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