Anxiety and depression affect 1 in every 5 Americans. Sadly, 85 percent of these people do not reach out and seek help. They choose to suffer in silence, and the repercussions are devastating: failed relationships, inability to hold on to jobs, and not being able to live productive and meaningful lives. These outcomes intensify the symptoms of anxiety and depression and send the sufferer on a downward spiral.
Social anxiety is one of the most common forms of the disease and affects about 15 million Americans every year. It is a terrifying condition where people shun society, set up walls around them, and envelope themselves in layers of pall, gloom, and darkness. Joyable is a brave effort to break down the walls and reach out to these people with help and hope.
Joyable is an online program that delivers Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to people with anxiety and depression. CBT has been recognized as a safe and one of the most effective mode of treating and/or managing the symptoms of social anxiety by authoritarian organizations across the world like the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Health Service in the U.K., and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Despite the availability of this effective treatment methodology, many people do not avail it. That’s because one of the symptoms of social anxiety is the extreme reluctance of the person to reach out to and communicate with another human being let alone seek help from a therapist.
The program is the brainchild of Pete Shalek (CEO), and Steve Marks (COO). Shalek used to be an investor in and advisor to health tech companies at Hellman & Friedman and Morgan Stanley while Marks was in product management at Amazon and strategy at SoFi. Joyable was conceived when the two met at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.
“In designing Joyable, we started from a few core values,” says Marks. “First, reducing our clients’ anxiety is the most important thing we can do. Second, make Joyable human. And finally, keep Joyable simple.”
Joyable works by delivering activities proven to reduce anxiety (CBT). And studies have shown that online CBT is just as effective as in-person therapy. CBT is based on the concept that events don’t make us anxious — it’s our interpretation of events that makes us anxious.
Clients sign up for the program and have the option to participate in a short introductory call with a Joyable coach, who helps encourage clients and keeps them on track. The software guides clients through three types of CBT activities in the Joyable program:
- Educational – learning about the causes of anxiety and ways to mitigate it.
- Thought-based – learning to recognize and break down the thoughts that make us anxious.
- Behavioral – offline activities that help clients lead the life they want.
“Joyable’s approach to building trust is pretty simple. Our product really works. We believe that the more lives we change, the more people we’ll be able to reach through our success stories,” Marks says.
The widespread prevalence and far-reaching complications of social anxiety, their personal experiences with the condition, and the realization that conventional treatment methods are challenging to navigate motivated Pete and Steve to find a solution that sufferers could access conveniently and comfortably. They had to create a solution that would afford trust, privacy, and accountability. People afflicted with social anxiety often hesitate to start such programs usually because of the stigma attached with depression and sometimes because they regard regular visits to a therapist cumbersome. Another challenge is to make them complete a program.
“Although you can access Joyable’s webapp from a mobile phone today, we plan to start work on native mobile apps in the near future. We believe that native mobile apps will help Joyable more fully fulfill our promise of being the most accessible social anxiety solution in the world.”
Joyable overcomes these challenges in unique ways. The program is available online, a medium that makes for both privacy and convenience. Every person who takes part in the program is assigned a personal coach who not only helps him open up and learn to form trusting relationships with another human being but also ensures he completes the program. This is a 12-week program and is based on the sound principles that govern CBT.
Anxiety and depression stem from our unique interpretation of events. An event may cause stress and anxiety in one person without affecting another person in any negative way. CBT works by bringing about attitudinal shifts and changes in the mindset of a person, so he can respond positively to whatever happens in his life. What is more, CBT is as effective when it is delivered online as when delivered in-person.
Joyable achieves this by educating clients on the causes of anxiety and how to deal with it. The program incorporates thought-based learning that teaches clients to analyze their thoughts objectively, so they realize there is nothing inherently depressing or stressful about a situation and that it is their minds that play tricks on them. Finally, the program imparts behavioral education to help people change their attitudes and behaviors, so they can live the life of their dreams.
The Joyable program is successful not only because it delivers the CBT method. Its efficacy and likeability also stem from the human touch the coaches bring on board. Most of the coaches have experience coaching or mentoring and are well-versed in the principles of CBT. And all of them are good listeners who patiently hear out a person’s story to understand his situation and show empathy and compassion to put him at ease. Clients of the Joyable program report that they feel less stressed and calmer after they interact with their coaches. The coaches also give a personal touch to the program with gestures like sending flowers when their patients undergo any medical procedure at the hospital and communicating with them when a major event takes place in their lives.
The Joyable program aims to build a relationship of trust with the patients. That is why, the coaches check in with the patients every week and are always available over the phone and via text and email. The regularity and reliability of communication along with the knowledge that their coaches are always available to listen to them let patients relax and feel secure, cared, and loved for.
Joyable has had to overcome stiff challenges to evolve to this stage. People are naturally skeptical about the efficacy of mental health treatments. So one of the biggest challenges was to foster an atmosphere of acceptability, so people could trust them and come to seek help or bring their loved ones.
Dr. Rick Heimberg is one of the world’s foremost authorities on social anxiety. He along with other clinical experts helped build the Joyable program. Dr. Heimberg’s association and his stamp of confidence help people accept Joyable more readily. And then there are the success stories.
A whopping 90 percent of patients who complete the 12-week program report that their anxieties lessen by as much as 30 percent. The transformation is apparent not only in their outlook towards life but also in the way they now behave socially. Patients say that after undergoing the Joyable program they felt more confident and less shy about going on dates, attending job interviews, and interacting with other people.
Shalek and Marks aren’t stopping there though. They will soon start work on native mobile apps to make Joyable more readily accessible and hence affordable. They intend to banish anxiety and depression from the world by making evidence-based medical help accessible to all and sundry.