What Do Moustaches Have To Do With Suicide Prevention?

How one company is using technology to help people get care

Posted Sep 13, 2018

I had a feeling that Movember, the movement engaging men in growing moustaches to raise money for men’s health, may have started as a lark.

In fact, it did: Two friends were sitting around, talking about how mustaches had never made a comeback. They decided they would be the ones to do it: How many men could they talk into growing moustaches? They determined that there’d need to be a reason to dramatically and publicly change your appearance, and decided that a fundraiser for an important cause could work. The brother of one of these friends joined their efforts and Movember was born.

“What was really surprising in the beginning was the conversations that got started: ‘Why are you growing a moustache for good?’” said Adam Garone, one of the founders.

It was an easy opener. It’s much easier to begin a conversation about prostate cancer, testicular cancer, or mental health and suicide prevention with a moustache than with, well, just about any other thing.

“The call to action was for men and women to talk about the real stuff going on in their lives and to get help,” says Garone.” You can see the way the organization has evolved to include mental health: Movember started in 2003 focused on male cancers and now the first story on the organization’s website is about men’s mental health:

“To be a man of less anxiety, I had to be a man of more words.”

Source: Movember

But, the story I want to tell is actually not about Movember, it’s about the third chapter of Adam Garone’s career, after the Australian Army and Movember.

It’s the story of Quartet, a company developing tech solutions for a tremendous healthcare problem: Transitions in care from primary care physicians to mental health providers. Garone recently joined Quartet as Chief Marketing Officer, and his passion for being a part of an organization that has the potential to impact mental health at the population level is clear.

He feels strongly about “getting people into the right care at the right time.” In seeking mental health care, it’s so easy to unintentionally make “a left turn when you could go straight ahead or take a right turn. How do you get someone on the right path?”

Quartet is working to make the link easier for people. People already delay seeking help because of the stigma associated with mental illness. So when someone is ready to seek help, it should be easy. But it isn’t. In a marketplace driven by insurance and with a paucity of available providers, finding the right mental health provider is a real challenge.

People often end up in the offices of primary care providers talking about mental health needs. While primary care providers may really know their patients’ overall health, they aren’t equipped to provide much more than a referral for mental health care. And that is, often, where things can get stuck. Primary care providers will refer to the same small set of people, and those providers’ calendars are full, putting people with real needs on a months-long waitlist for an initial appointment.

Even if someone is able to make an appointment, there are times when a provider just isn’t a good fit, so the patient will leave therapy and not seek a new provider, or stay without making meaningful progress.

In all of these scenarios, the opportunity to get the right mental health care, at the right time, of the right quality, is lost. Quartet is aiming to make change in all of those areas.

It works more upstream, gathering data about patients that can be shared with primary care providers to help them encourage patients showing that they may have mental health needs to seek help. It acts as the middle-man, working with a patient’s doctor to make a match with the right provider based on treatment needs, preferences, insurance, and location. And, it advocates for more personalized care, driven in part by seeing how individualizing treatment can impact outcomes in other areas of health.

“In the cancer world, it’s about individualized care, at the genomic level,” says Garone. He believes that that’s where we need to get to with mental health care, creating more holistic and personalized solutions that may include combinations of medication, treatment, or social support, where providers are thinking about patients “deeply and specifically.”

What I think is particularly important about Quartet is that they actively, intentionally want to be a part of the suicide prevention “space.” They want to be a part of raising awareness about -- and moving the needle -- on suicide prevention. They want this message -- that they are committed to contributing to suicide prevention -- to reach people during National Suicide Prevention Week.

I think we’re in a new moment, a good moment, when for-profit companies innovating in healthcare want to attach themselves to suicide prevention as an issue.

What other companies are doing good work toward suicide prevention? Let me know so I can highlight them, too. 

Copyright 2018 Elana Premack Sandler, All Rights Reserved