Mental health platform latest venture for investment veteran

by David Keelaghan06 Dec 2017
Mental health isn’t something that can be taken for granted. Depression and anxiety can affect anyone, regardless of social status, success in the workplace or having strong support networks. For entrepreneur Sam Duboc, a family tragedy six years ago ultimately set both his personal and professional life in a completely new direction.

“In 2011 when my brother died, I had a couple of heart operations, and I learned the reality of depression,” he says. “I realized how hard it was to solve the accessibility/effectiveness/affordability equation.”

That realization brought him and his wife Claire to CBT Associates, a cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) clinic in Toronto. The couple subsequently partnered with Dr. Peter Farvolden and Dr. Eilenna Denisoff of CBT, opening six more clinics across Canada.

Duboc is perhaps best known as the founder of private equity firm EdgeStone Capital Partners, and is the current president & CEO of investment firm Elkland Capital. His most recent venture is in a completely different realm, however, that of mental health treatment.

Launched in October, BEACON is a digital platform using the principles of CBT to treat mental illness. His own personal experience had made him realize Canada was severely lacking in this area, and that technology offered a possible solution.

“We use CBT over your phone, or laptop, i-Pad, delivering cognitive behavioral therapy for those that need it in a very rigorous way,” he says. “We start with a deep assessment and deliver a full diagnoses from a psychologist.
We then put you on a personalized care path with your own therapist, and then track outcomes after every session, typically 1.5 times a week.”

When a person is finished their treatment, they stay on the BEACON system for a total of 12 months, which helps with the effectiveness of the program. Crucial is the original assessment, which is the foundation of the platform.

“We built a deep assessment to include not only things like your level of distress, but also your level of support,” says Duboc. “There are almost 500 questions altogether in the assessment tool, with AI underlying that, and it allows us to branch you to the appropriate care based on the initial answers. Machine learning then constantly makes it better as more people take the assessment.”

BEACON is still in its formative stages, but has already received the support of names like Carrot Insights, Cossette, Deloitte, League, Medisys Health Group, Porter Airlines, the Public Services Health and Safety Association, Sun Life Financial, and Wilfrid Laurier University.

Manulife Financial is another early adopter and the insurance giant is currently working on a disability program with BEACON.

“The interesting thing about CBT is that it works very well with symptom reduction across a wide array of illnesses, but almost all of CBT is not super effective on return-to-work, unless you add return-to-work protocols,” says Duboc. “It’s protocols on how to deal with your peers at work, how to have conversations and have a return-to-work plan. With Manulife, we have taken those CBT protocols that work for anxiety and depression and then added deep return-to-work protocols.”

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), mental illness is the number one cause of disability claims in Cthe country, with 500,000 people missing work in any given week. While stigma of the illness has reduced in recent years, it remains a problem that many suffers simply don’t seek help. Digital platforms like BEACON should help with that, believes Duboc, allowing people to have treatment at their convenience.

“CBT has been proven to work as effectively as drugs for mood and anxiety disorders,” he says. “I can’t emphasize enough how rigorous and deep our assessment tool is. We put you on a personalized care path which we have very strong results with symptom reduction that is equal to or greater than we see in person. There is also very low drop-off rates.”

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