At Two Chairs, we talk a lot about how mental health faces stigma in our society, to the point where even just broaching the subject with loved ones can feel challenging. On top of that, there’s unfortunately additional stigma surrounding the methods people use to treat their mental health issues. Things like therapy and medication.
That’s why our friends over at Prairie Health are challenging misconceptions about pursuing medication to treat mental illness. They’re focused on combining genetic testing with expert support to create custom care plans for their patients and maximize mental health outcomes.
“We think a lot about how to make mental healthcare more accessible and approachable at Prairie. Our respective focuses - in pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy - go hand-in-hand. The gold standard of evidence suggests a combination of both lead to the best possible outcomes.”
Today, we’re talking to Maurice Chiang, CEO & Co-Founder of Prairie Health, about how he approaches mental wellness in his own life, how he envisions the field of psychiatry evolving, and why it needs to.
A Conversation with Maurice Chiang, CEO & Co-Founder of Prairie
Tell us about your work with Prairie Health. What motivated you to start a psychiatry company?
I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, and have always been fascinated by science and technology. Many of my formative years were spent at Stanford, where I completed my undergrad in bioengineering and grad school in computer science. I had the fortune of being involved in both the entrepreneurship community (through the Mayfield Fellows Program, a fellowship designed to build leaders in tech) and the scientific / research community.
For me, mental health issues have always held a special place in my heart; over the years, I’ve seen inadequate care profoundly affect my family and friends. I started Prairie Health to reimagine mental healthcare, and build a world where everyone has access to amazing care.
Antidepressants used today were developed on white men before the NIH Revitalization Act of 1993, which mandated the inclusion of women and minorities in clinical research. As a result, standard dosing schedules are inappropriate for most women and people of color. Additionally, with little data driving treatment decisions, antidepressants are prescribed trial and error, oftentimes resulting in severe side effects. At Prairie, I strongly believe that mental healthcare should be made for all. We’ve built a data-driven telemedicine platform for mental health, leveraging the latest in psychiatric research, AI, and genetics to get our members the right care for their biology.
How does your mental health relate to your role as a founder?
There is a mental health crisis in entrepreneurship. Studies show that around half of all entrepreneurs suffer from at least one mental illness. Given all the immense stressors that entrepreneurs face in their journey to change the order of things, it’s essential for entrepreneurs to look inwards and manage their own mental health challenges. I often think about the advice of Ben Horowitz, prominent venture capitalist and former entrepreneur. He said, “the most important part of being a leader is managing your own psychology,” a statement that rings exceptionally true as I navigate this entrepreneurial journey.
There is a self-doubting and judging voice that oftentimes follows me as I make difficult decisions. And sometimes, it’s easy to conflate this voice for my own. However, I try to acknowledge this voice, accept it, and proceed to make decisions from a different place—a place of rational and values-driven judgment.
Tell us about your mental wellness regimen. What do you do for self-care?
Especially with Prairie always on my mind, I’ve found it important to find time for self-care. For me, that starts with ensuring that I’m staying connected to those that are very important to me—family and friends. I’m grateful for their support through this challenging time. I’m privileged enough to live with several friends, which has made staying connected easier. I also try and reserve time for journaling, and try to stay consistent with meditation.
It’s also been beneficial for me to unplug from technology before bed, and transition some of my meetings to calls so that I can carve out time to walk during the day.
How do you hope to see the field of psychiatry evolve over the next few years, or even decades?
I’d like to see more research and development dollars flow into psychiatry. We as a country need to invest in mental health research dollar-for-dollar with what we spend for physical health conditions. Psychiatrists today are doing a fantastic job with the tools they have. That said, we’ve given them stone-age tools. What if we armed mental health professionals with better ones? We need to be providing our clinicians with better data, better means of tracking patient outcomes, and more effective precision medication and treatment options. At Prairie, we think we have a unique opportunity to move mental healthcare forward, and do our part to pave the way for data-driven care in psychiatry.
The stigma for mental health, and especially medication, can stop people from getting the treatment they need.
What is something you'd share with someone who is skeptical of medication and psychiatry?
You’re not alone. 1 in 5 people in the United States suffer from a mental health condition. Out of those with anxiety or depression, around 60% have taken medication as a part of their treatment plan. Medication isn’t a long-term solution. But oftentimes, medication can really help you get on the right path to recovery.
There’s one more thing I’d like to highlight here. We as a society need to view clinical anxiety and depression like the illnesses they are—stigma shouldn’t get in the way of people getting proper care. When you contract a physical illness, medication is oftentimes part of the path to getting better. The same should be the case in mental health.
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