App aims to ease access to mental health therapy for all ages

An Ottawa-based software startup wants to make it easier for people to access mental health services using mobile software that the firm says will also be a lucrative platform for independent therapy businesses looking to expand their client bases.

The company plans to run its youth-focused pilot program in two Canadian communities that made national headlines this year as they grappled with alarmingly high youth suicide rates.

Snapclarity is a mobile app startup headed by Terri Storey of Terrace Wellness Group. The app pairs each user with an associate – a certified therapist or life coach – so they may communicate anytime and anywhere via unlimited text messaging, with the option to purchase additional services such as video calls and traditional in-person counselling sessions.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 20 per cent of Canadians will experience mental illness in their lifetime and about eight per cent of adults will suffer from major depression at some point in their lives, yet only half seek treatment.

Ms. Storey, who has nearly 20 years of experience with mental health treatment centres across Ontario as the founder and president of Terrace Youth Residential Services, explains that the idea for the software was to address the three major barriers that prevent people from getting proper treatment: lack of access, time and suitable services for a patient’s needs.

“For anxiety, for depression, instead of waiting for weekly appointments, they can have access when it’s needed,” she says. “It’s cost-effective, it can be anywhere, anytime, and we know from research that patients do better when they have access to their therapists on a daily basis.”

With a monthly subscription fee of $100 for unlimited text messaging, the costs are lower on average than what one would pay in traditional “brick-and-mortar” settings, Ms. Storey says.

“We just want to get this into people’s hands,” she says. “It’s an evolution – we’re trying to change the way mental health is delivered.”

The app is being developed by Ictinus, the Ottawa-based digital design firm that also worked for local startup Punchtime. Within a month, Snapclarity plans to close out a Series A financing round of about $2 million, which is roughly the startup cost to build and launch the product.

With revenues coming from a 30 per cent cut of subscription fees and transactions made through the mobile platform, Snapclarity is projecting $2.8 million in monthly recurring revenues by its first year.

The firm’s main competitor, New York-based Talkspace, has a very similar concept and already reports 300,000 users and $28 million in financing. But Snapclarity's greatest advantage may be its youth outreach, since many other similar services – TalkSpace included – are only for users over 18.

According to the CMHA, an estimated 10 to 20 per cent of Canadian youth are affected by mental illness, yet only one in five of them receive treatment. Suicide is among the leading causes of death for Canadians aged 15 to 24, accounting for 4,000 deaths per year in that age group and making Canada’s youth suicide rate the third-highest in the industrialized world, the CMHA says.

The app’s pilot project will take place in two communities highly affected by youth suicide:Cross Lake, where six people died by suicide, many of them young people, in a span of two months and 140 attempted suicide in two weeks in Pimicikamak Cree Nation in northern Manitoba; and Woodstock, where high school students walked out of classes in June to draw attention to a spate of suicides and attempted suicides in the small southern Ontario city.

“We feel that’s a really good population to use this service,” says Ms. Storey. “We’re communicating with youth in the way that they’re communicating now.”

Snapclarity is currently negotiating a deal with an as-yet-undisclosed telecom company that would provide 100 smartphones and accompanying mobile data service for at-risk teens in those two areas to use to access six months of free therapy using the app, she says.

The trial is slated for mid-August, while the full product launch is expected in January.

From a business perspective, Ms. Storey sees the app as being advantageous not only for the company itself but also for therapists and coaches – many of them entrepreneurs with their own private practices – looking to reach more clients. It’s a “platform for them to be able to service more people and make more money,” she says.

Snapclarity is also looking to partner with an Ottawa university to be part of its advisory group and is seeking government contracts to help spread access to services provided by the app.

“My passion is to help as many people as we possibly can,” says Ms. Storey.