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Therapy Goes Mobile: Henry Health’s mission to add a decade of wellness to the lives of black men

Shortly after the not guilty verdict was returned in the Trayvon Martin case, recovering politico and public health professional Kevin Dedner, sick with sadness, fury, and grief, turned to his circle of friends and family members to check in on them. Remarkably, the story he heard over and over was a description of his own feelings, a reflection of the heavy emotions in his community. Having faced his own mental health challenges through the help of a therapist, Dedner knew how big a challenge it was for Black men to find a therapist knowledgeable of the unique challenges of being a Black man in the current political and social climate. In fact, less than three percent of therapists are people of color, let alone Black men.

Instead of being discouraged, Dedner turned to his friend and Dallas-based angel investor Oliver Sims, III and the two launched Henry Health, a health and wellness platform designed to make access to mental healthcare easy and convenient. The therapist who helped Dedner, who he found after trying out three therapists who didn’t work? He became the company’s chief clinical officer.

The name of the company is a reference to the Black folk hero John Henry. According to legend, John Henry’s prowess as a steel-driver was measured in a race that he won, only to die in victory with a hammer in hand as his heart gave out from stress. This popular folktale is also the basis for the John Henryism construct coined by Sherman James in 1994. James suggests daily environmental pressures cause men to increase their effort and determination which can be detrimental to their health. Past studies have focused on the linkages between John Henryism and cardiovascular health.

“For 100 years, Black men have had the lowest life expectancy of all groups,” said Chief Technology Officer Shawn Scott. “The life expectancy for Black men is only 70 years; if we make it to 80 years, we live longer than anyone else. Henry Health’s moonshot goal is to add 10 years of life expectancy for Black men.”

The statistics can be daunting– one study alone found five to 10 percent of Black men are suffering from depression and Black adults are 20 percent more likely to experience mental health issues compared to the general population –but  Dedner, Sims, Scott, and the Henry Health team, based both in Dallas and Washington, D.C., are dedicated to the company’s mission. As it currently being built, Henry Health will serve two functions: teletherapy for users to connect with licensed therapists who have received culturally relevant training and an online platform with self-care support, stress management and other tools to help users improve their mental health and wellness.

The six-person team, split between healthcare professionals and business/operations, has participated in several accelerators in preparation for launch.

  • Startup Health, an accelerator dedicated to “organizing, supporting, and investing in a global army of health transformers to improve the health and wellbeing of everyone in the world”
  • 1776 Accelerator, which includes 10 companies that all operate within a regulated market. 1776 is the largest network of incubators that cultivates and empowers startup ecosystems in the northeastern corridor.
  • Transparent Collective, a nonprofit helping Black, Latinx, and female founders access the growth resources and connections they need to build successful tech companies.

It was at the Transparent Collective four-day event in San Francisco this past August that the team connected with Josh Krammes, the vice president of community engagement for Dallas-based StackPath.

After applying to StackPath’s Propel program, Henry Health was accepted and will have access to mentoring, networking and tech products and services in the coming months.

The Henry Health team is now planning for the pilot launch in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. The goal of connecting with 100 Black men has been exceeded, with many on a waiting list to be connected with therapists. As the platform learns about its users from surveys and data collection on therapist interactions, the AI and machine learning will be working to elevate the user experience and content. Future plans include expanding services to women and other people of color.

Scott also noted that having half of the Henry Health team in Dallas means they are connected to the helpful feedback and input of the startup community in North Texas. There is even a possibility of basing the company’s engineering team in the city due to the talent pool in the region.

For more information on Henry Health services, visit www.henry-health.com.