According to the World Health Organization, over 300 million people in the world of all ages suffer from depression. In the worst case scenario depression can lead to suicide, but also to constant conflicts within your family circle, work, and even friendships.
In Finland, 7% of all adults suffer from depression, anxiety, and alcohol-related disorders — in 2007 this was also the leading cause for disability pensions. Alarming statistics, right?
It is still a taboo to talk about mental health and depression, which makes it even more difficult for people suffering in silence to reach out for help. So please, let’s talk about it. In this edition, we introduce you to Riku Lindholm — Co-Founder of Meru Health, an online medical clinic treating depression.
Q: When did you become a Co-founder at Meru Health?
“We have seen depression very close by as founders through our relatives, family, and such. We knew there was something that could be done better — all those things combined lead to the founding of Meru Health.”
Meru Health was founded in 2015. One of the founders, Kristian Ranta, was working together with Riku at Mendor (diabetes technology company). After working there some years, they both felt that there was the opportunity of doing something even more exciting and impactful. For a while, they started reflecting on several ideas and later on went unto quitting their jobs. Their current CTO — Albert Nazander, joined their discussions and that is how they got started.
From the very beginning they knew that from building the company ground up, they should have very clear which values they wanted to have and whatever they did should have a massive impact on the lives of people and the global ecosystem — mental health was one of the things on top of their minds.
Q: Did your entrepreneurial roots start long before founding Meru Health?
“I was part of Aaltoes and the reason I got involved, is because I saw something very interesting happening. The people there were working on very big ideas and having a huge impact. Back in 2011 that is what inspired me.”
As a part of Aaltoes, Riku felt that the experience was very exciting for him — being part of the ecosystem and playing his role. For a long time, he had been playing around with the idea of having his own company. Before Meru Health, the way he thought about it was, that one must have certain factors in place before you can establish a successful company. While he was aware, chances are that it can also fail, but the core elements should always be in place. For example, having a good team that shares the same values, a very good mission and enough of a vision of what you want to do.
Q: What are the differences between Kristian as a Founder and Riku as a Co-Founder?
“I would say it is fairly much the same, we are not that big of a company yet, roles evolve with time.”
How they have divided their roles is that Kristian takes care mostly of the sales part while Riku is more of the daily operations guy. The roles change every now and then — so it is very interactive. Albert is also an integral part of the team, and he is mostly helping out with all the tech development part.
Q: Meru Health’s mission is a great one: to improve the lives of people living with depression. How are you helping people have a better life?
“At Meru Health patients follow a structured program that is designed by clinicians, professionals and researchers in the health fields and we support that by providing a chat interface — that way therapists can see in real time how everyone in the program is doing and can help them proactively.”
For Meru Health, doing what they do is divided into two reasons: first one — they have seen first hand the consequences of depression and second one, they have seen the inefficiency in today’s care.
Depression is leading cause of disability in the world and due to this, there are one trillion euros of costs on a yearly basis — a huge problem in Finland, plus the current solutions to treat depression are not ideal. Taking anti depressants is often not so effective and over 50% get serious side effects. If you want to get treated you can visit a psychologist and get into long term therapy, but the main issue there is that supply and demand don’t meet at all — therapists have their inboxes full of requests. Going into therapy can also be very expensive and in cases waiting up to a year to see a therapist.
With Meru Health, the cost for the patient lowers, and the usual time to get into our care is between 1 to 3 weeks instead of months, plus no serious side effects. Meru Health is building a very scalable and effective solution for treating depression.
Q: There are different types of depression. Who are you targeting?
“One big misconception is that people think depression is one disease which is definitely not. There are lots of sub-types.”
Meru Health is suitable for most people, but there are segments in which they don’t consider themselves to be the best solution — for example to people that have schizophrenia and other serious mental health disorders.
Depending on where they work, they can treat between 70–80% percent of the people living with depression. It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old. Their youngest participant is 18 yrs old and oldest is 74 yrs old. They also treat all the severity types of depression (mild, moderate and severe). However, if you have depression combined with some other serious mental health disorder Meru Health is not the right solution.
Q: What are your doing to fight the stigma around mental health?
“One of the core things we do is to help people all over the world through different activities. Helping is a very integral part of what we do.“
Meru Health has worked on 2 different campaigns to help fight the stigma. In the first one, they built and anonymous depression scale survey, shared it on Facebook, just for people to try it out and see where they stood in the depression scale and find out whether or not they needed treatment. They got 19500 answers in the first facebook survey and, 4200 answers in the second one. This campaign helped them raise awareness of depression.
In the US ( Silicon Valley Area), they are running a campaign called “2 Minute Mind Check” which was all about raising awareness of depression especially at the workplace. They are collaborating with 2 of the biggest national depression associations called NAMI and ADA in the US. They are organizing different events on the topic and carrying anonymous surveys to identify where people stand on a depression scale, while also providing helpful resources as to where people could find a potential therapist, apply to the programs, etc.
“In Finland, at around 18 years of age there is a peak in depression prevalence. What we are trying to do through that collaboration is helping young people in need living with depression.”
The Finnish Association for Mental Health has an online service called “Sekaisin chat” and they currently have 8 000 people contacting them every month. Through that service, they have an anonymous online interface for people to get in touch with specialists in mental health treatment. Through that chat, they will also be redirected to Meru Health. Me Säätiö is also partnering up with us to fund the whole collaboration.
Q: What comes next for Meru Health?
“We are starting our first 2 clinical trials: One in Finland with a student population and one in the US with 45+ population.“
The hopeful outcome of those research studies is that they can show that Meru Health is very effective for treating depression and to gather enough robust data that they can show people instead of just telling it.
About Meru Health
Founded by experienced entrepreneurs and scientists, Meru Health develops and delivers cost-effective, clinically proven and engaging digital solutions to empower people living with depression.