Therapy.Live’s PrepareU Offers Proactive Tools to Halt Teen Suicide

Americans are living through interesting times. Our politics have rarely been more polarized, income inequality continues to grow, gun violence is rampant, life expectancy has been in decline for several years, and deaths of despair—those resulting from things like suicide or drug overdose—continue to rise. What’s a thinking, feeling person to do?

If you’re Ryan Beale, co-founder and CEO of Therapy.Live, you turn a family tragedy into the seeds of a new mental health startup. Farmington, MI-based Therapy.Live, Beale says, is an encrypted, HIPPA-compliant online platform designed to connect therapists with patients who don’t have easy or affordable access to counseling, or are wary of trying therapy due to the associated stigma.

While Therapy.Live’s digital assessment tools are still under development, with plenty of competition in the market already—Talkspace is probably the most well-known—the company has been busy advancing PrepareU, its curriculum to proactively address the mental health challenges of high school students and provide a behavioral health toolkit to help them to better cope with life’s ups and downs.

“PrepareU helps students have a better understanding of depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, harmful thoughts, and more,” Beale explains. “It can be facilitated by any state-certified teacher, even those with no mental health training. It’s an integrated, experiential approach—by offering appropriate mental health education, students will have the tools to be more resilient and lead more productive lives.” Given enough time, he adds, nearly all of us will eventually experience some form of mental health challenge.

In 2009, Beale lost his brother to suicide. Beale had been living and working in Chicago at the time, but he returned to Michigan to help stabilize the family after his brother’s death. “I grew up learning about family patterns and dysfunction” and how that dysfunction can become deadly, he recalls. A serial entrepreneur, Beale also has a Master’s degree in clinical psychology and a background working with adolescents, he says.

Beale maintains that younger generations are more aware of and in tune with the idea that thoughts and behavior also affect physical health. “They’re much more curious about therapy,” he says. “It’s a unique moment in time.”

In 2017, Therapy.Live began a pilot project to test PrepareU at West Bloomfield High School after five students committed suicide in three years. The response, Beale says, was positive. In a letter posted on the Therapy.Live website, WBHS principal Pat Watson described PrepareU as “powerful” and  “qualitatively different” from similar initiatives in that it challenged students to identify distressing thoughts and emotions and work through them using the curriculum’s framework and increased peer support.

“Preventative education is the key to moving the mental health needle, and we designed PrepareU with that in mind,” Beale says. In addition to being offered at WBHS, Beale says PrepareU is being piloted at a number of other Michigan schools, but he declined to share specifics. Later this summer, he says, Therapy.Live will launch online practice management tools for therapists.

Beale says schools pay $40 per student to access the PrepareU programming, which includes a 150-page workbook, self-care toolkit, workshops, and additional online resources. Therapy.Live is currently giving therapists free access to the site on an invitation basis, but will soon begin charging them $1 “per activity” once the practice management tools go live. The eight-person company has been self-funded so far but will look to raise money soon if the right opportunity presents itself, he says.

Michigan, unfortunately, has a higher suicide rate than the national average, Beale says. Across the country, one in seven high school students has a serious plan to end their lives. The New York Times recently published a poignant, heartbreaking story that looked at how teen suicides are affecting one Montana community, but Beale says the devastation outlined in the article could apply to any community struggling with higher suicide rates.

“That’s why we want to be proactive,” he says. “It’s not just suicide prevention, but tools so we never even get to that place. The intergenerational exchange of trauma has been going on since the beginning of time, and it’s important for the grown-ups to realize that a shift is needed.”

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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