Bea Arthur is a Columbia University trained psychotherapist, founder and CEO of The Difference, and an author who works with high performance individuals. Bea was the first African American female founder in Y-Combinator and was named as an Entrepreneur to Bet On by Newsweek Magazine as well as one of Bumble’s 100 Most Inspirational New Yorkers.
I had a blast during this conversation, and I learned a lot. Bea is just all around amazing and I learned a lot from my conversation with her. She knows the history of mental health care, and the mental health tech landscape better than anyone else I’ve met lately. This conversation was educational and informative for me.
Here are some of the things we talked about:
- What led you to get a master’s degree in Psychological Counseling? Bea talks about how psychology “fell into her lap.” She talks about how she found her ability to connect with people by being nosey, and she found that people would open up to her while she was a real estate agent digging into her clients’ backgrounds to see if the home they were viewing was a fit for them.
- How did you find your way into entrepreneurship? Bea talks about her journey from multiple jobs including being a real estate agent and finding her way to a counseling degree and into the entrepreneurship community.
- Bea talks about how she came up with the idea for The Difference, which is a startup that provides on-demand access to therapy as Amazon’s first mental health Alexa skill. We talk about how hard it is to find a therapist. Bea explains how the primary reason people aren’t getting help is because of access. She talks about how the suicide hotline (a non-profit) is the only platform that has always been around and always had volume and impact. The reason is because it’s accessible. So, she is building a tool to give people better, immediate access to therapy.
- History of the therapist, patient, and payer relationships since the 1980s. Bea explains how we got to where we are today in the mental health market. She explains that there is a misconception that therapists charge a lot of money based on their worth. The truth is, therapists charge that much because they must.
People used to get 20 free therapy sessions a year from their insurance companies. Then in the 80s and 90s, when mental health started being categorized as disability, employers started using this against employees to fire them. This was before the disabilities act. In the 80s and 90s when there was free therapy, people started paying out of pocket so their employers wouldn’t know. Also, when submitting a claim, a therapist must wait 2 months to get paid $60 when they can just get $200 now private or cash pay. Since then we still haven’t figured out how to get clients and counselors connected in a good way, and that’s what The Difference is trying to solve.We talked about corporate leaders having a responsibility to take the lead on mental wellness. Bea explains that most companies are quick to nod their head and say they want to help or be supportive of employee mental wellness but are not quick to write a check to do so. Companies are still in a place where they need to be convinced of how that spending will positively impact their bottom lines.
- We discussed men specifically struggling with mental health. Bea talks about some of the statistics on this issue and how much worse mental illness is among men than women. She talks about the way men make social connections, and how men spend their time socially (watching a game, golf, gun ranges, fishing) doing things that don’t foster face to face sharing and vulnerability. This type of “manly” social connectivity is harmful to men and their mental well-being.
- Isolation can kill you. We talked about how humans have always been tribal creatures, but recently we have become such an individualistic, kill or be killed alpha-male society. Going back to the topic of men’s’ mental health, a lot of men think of themselves as leader of the pack . But back when we were in packs, we all had to rely on each other, even the leader. We had to admit our fears and work together. In an individualistic society, only “you” need to survive, so you worry about yourself and keep all the fears inside.
- We talked about this idea of a “mental health baseline” and how we have to be self-aware both physically and emotionally. Our bodies will tell us when something is wrong, so when things don’t feel right, you need to talk to someone and not just think it will go away.