Health IT

Mental health startup reveals self-help monthly subscription service

St. Petersburg, Florida-based TAO Connect has launched a new offering: a self-help monthly subscription plan and mobile app. Through it, individuals can access TAO’s online mental health services.

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TAO Connect, a startup based in St. Petersburg, Florida, has launched a new offering: a self-help monthly subscription plan and mobile app.

Through it, anyone can access TAO’s online mental health services. People can also use the company’s technology in tandem with guidance from a therapist.

It costs $25 per month or $100 for six months of unlimited use of the tools within the program.

TAO, which stands for Therapy Assistance Online, has modules focused on various issues, including depression, anxiety, stress, pain management and substance abuse. Each treatment includes six or seven sections. Its platform is HIPAA compliant.

Dr. Sherry Benton founded the company in 2012 while she was the director of the counseling center at the University of Florida.

“I have had a lifelong commitment to trying to reduce mental health disparities,” Benton, who is also the chief science officer, said in a phone interview. She pointed to the fact that there aren’t enough therapists to help all the individuals who need care, particularly in rural settings and at universities.

TAO was initially centered around helping students in college. But since then, it has expanded its focus to adults — that is, anyone who’s 16 or older.

A $1.1 million fundraise in 2016 helped it move toward that expansion goal. The money, which came from New World Angels, Florida Angels Network and Florida Funders, went to support product development and expansion into non-university settings.

Now, Benton noted that the company has contracted with a few large provider networks. Earlier this year, the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador also launched TAO’s technology as part of its national mental health service.

The startup is currently evolving to meet consumers’ needs.

“Research is a huge part of the company and a big part of what we do,” Benton said. “We use information about how people are progressing through TAO to guide our continuing development.”

Additionally, the Florida company is bringing machine learning to its technology. By applying machine learning programs, TAO is able to see how patients are progressing through the modules. It will then create “individualized and customized messaging that tells people the next best steps,” Benton said, adding that a prototype of the service is currently in place. TAO received a National Science Foundation grant to pursue these ML components.

Looking ahead, Benton plans to continue to assist those with behavioral health needs.

“My goal always is to try to do everything I can to reduce mental health disparities,” she said. “Making [therapy] easier and just as effective is my mission in life.”

Photo: Professor25, Getty Images