Making Mental Health a Priority with Varshil Patel

In honor of World Mental Health Day's 2022 theme "Make mental health and well-being for all a global priority", we spoke with Varshil Patel, the CEO of Therapy Notebooks, to learn more about the challenges to mental health care and what can be done to support well-being.

Firstly, can you tell us a little about Therapy Notebooks?

The original idea behind Therapy Notebooks came from the observation that the most helpful mental health tools, concepts, and frameworks were actually quite challenging to access for the everyday person. While mindfulness has grown in popularity, other effective therapy modalities—like Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Exposure Therapy, and more—are much less talked about and understood, even by people going to therapy. So we set out to create easy-to-use products that would help people access and understand these tools. Given how overwhelmed people already are with their devices, we chose to create beautiful guided notebooks instead of a digital experience. We believe our notebooks serve as a separate (and less overwhelming) physical space for learning and practicing these helpful mental health tools. 

Therapy Notebooks aims to create affordable mental health resources. Can you share a little bit about cost as a barrier to mental health care?

Seeing a therapist on a weekly or bi-weekly is expensive; even with insurance coverage, there’s usually some degree of individual expense associated with therapy sessions. And unfortunately, a lot of the most experienced therapists do not accept insurance. In that case, therapy becomes your third-most costly personal expense every month, after rent and food. Fortunately, new solutions have made access to mental health resources more affordable over the past decade. However, even if you can cross the financial hurdles, actually using mental health care and resources is expensive in terms of the time and energy involved.

Another barrier is social stigma. Was choosing to name Therapy Notebooks' resources after mental health concerns a way to help dismantle this? What else can be done to break down stigmas?

Yes! We chose to name our products to directly address and speak to the mental health challenges that people are struggling with; we’re hopeful that this both combats stigma and helps people feel seen by our resources. A lot is being done to combat stigma and we’ve already come a long way! At the individual level, we believe that more people openly and vulnerably sharing their personal mental health struggles and stories has a powerful impact on breaking down stigma. That vulnerability directly encourages other people to be curious about their own mental health and perhaps seek help if that is what they need. 

At the individual level, we believe that more people openly and vulnerably sharing their personal mental health struggles and stories has a powerful impact on breaking down stigma.

With more and more people seeking mental health care, finding a therapist can be difficult. Can you share any tips for this?

Finding a therapist can be so difficult, and then, once you’ve finally found one, assessing fit with a therapist is perhaps just as challenging. In the Therapy Journal, we offer tips on how to find a therapist and how to approach the therapist-client relationship, like:

  • Your health insurance company and therapist directories (such as TherapyDen and Psychology Today) are great starting places for finding a list of in-network therapists. 
  • It’s often helpful to ask therapists who don’t have space to take on new clients if they have any other therapists they would recommend and if they have a waitlist. If it just doesn’t seem like anyone is available, consider group therapy as an alternative to individual therapy–it can be a great way of finding community and support, and is typically more affordable than individual therapy. 
  • For therapists who are not in-network (i.e. not covered by your health insurance), you can ask them if they offer sliding scale fees. Quite a few therapists are willing to lower their fees for clients who cannot afford their full fee. 


Mental health is not the same for everyone. How do mental health concerns affect different groups?

Someone’s mental health is not an individually-created ecosystem. It’s created and influenced over time by our family, friends, society, and experiences. Given that these external and social factors vary dramatically from person to person, it then makes sense that certain people may be more predisposed to certain mental health conditions than others. As an example, scientific literature on Asian-American women and disordered eating behavior has highlighted cultural factors as an important consideration. While research can’t say that one thing necessarily leads to another, results of some studies suggest that experiencing appearance-related teasing impacts how likely Asian-American women internalize American beauty standards, which in turn makes it more likely for them to develop disordered eating behaviors. 

Also, on a separate but related note, there are very real differences in how mental health conditions manifest in people, and these differences are also driven by a variety of socioeconomic, cultural, and physiological differences. What anxiety looks like for you often might not be the same as what anxiety looks like for someone else. 


Over the past few years, people have experienced trauma from the COVID-19 pandemic, conflicts, and other crises. What is trauma and why is it vital this is addressed globally?

Trauma has historically been defined as combat-related trauma: witnessing or experiencing life-threatening situations. However, trauma has been understood to encompass so many more kinds of experiences than that. Perhaps at its broadest, trauma includes all the experiences that exceed our ability to comprehend and cope in the moment. It often challenges our core notions of what we can expect from others and the world. Under this lens, the last several years have definitely shaken up so many people’s understanding of how the world works. Further, we must talk about trauma at a broader scale, because it’s the societies we’re in that shape our expectations, but also the same societies that then break those expectations and shake us at our core.


Therapy Notebooks creates resources for individuals but what needs to be done on a larger scale to support mental well-being?

This is a question that our team reflects on frequently! It’s great to see the improvements in access to mental health care, the reduction in stigma, and the creation of scalable mental health resources, but some of the biggest unaddressed questions are around what is driving the growth of people who need mental health support. These are very hard questions that are related to the political, economic, and social fabric of our society. How can we help more people feel safe, seen, and heard on a regular and ongoing basis? How can we ensure more people have access to supportive communities and healthy environments? How can we restructure our relationships to work more sustainably? How can we moderate the use of technology to reduce some of the harmful impacts of the time spent on our devices? Addressing these questions requires a combination of cultural shifts, policy shifts, innovation, and dialogue. 


This World Mental Health Day, we encourage you to check in with yourself and those around you.
If you or someone you know needs assistance, there are resources available, from mindfulness activities and tools like Therapy Notebooks to counseling with a licensed professional.

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