Connecting Treatment-Resistant Depression Patients with New Options in Days, Not Years

Oct 20, 2022

Written By Morgan Hewett, CEO and Co-founder of Options MD.

Treatment-resistant depression (TRD) represents possibly the largest white space in mental health care today, impacting some 5.5 million adults in the U.S. Among the 16 million Americans diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder every year, treatment-resistant cases account for more than 56% of the health care burden, nearly 50% of the unemployment burden and 32% of the productivity burden, according to research from the National Institutes of Health.

I saw this play out personally in what a close family member went through. 

He was severely depressed, and over the course of eight years tried 12 different medications. My family spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on out of pocket mental health treatment, and he simply did not get better. Nothing helped, and he lost hope along the way, which resulted in three suicide attempts.

The consequences were even more harrowing for my best friend and cofounder, Kyle Pierce, who lost a loved one to suicide after she unsuccessfully battled TRD for 2 years. 

We came to learn the hard way that they were not alone.

He is part of a category of mental health patients that are deemed “treatment resistant” by doctors, which simply means that they have a debilitating chronic mental illness that two or more treatments do not relieve. There are 32 million mental health patients like our loved ones in the U.S. right now, and their numbers are growing at a rate of 3x year-over-year. 

These patients are four times more costly to treat than non-treatment resistant patients, totaling $64 billion in annual expenditures. And, while the system often gives up on these patients after first line medications do not work for them, the patients themselves normally do not give up that easily. They are extremely motivated to find the right treatment and are seeking relief but unfortunately often lack the resources to find that relief. 

Simply put, patients need better treatment options and clinicians need help to move them past trial and error approaches. 

That's where Options MD comes in. Options MD is a telemedicine platform that helps patients with treatment-resistant mental illnesses find and stay on the right treatment faster. We do this through a proprietary software platform that predicts a patient's best fit treatment options, designed to address the nuances of these previously difficult to treat patients.

Kyle and I came to Techstars UnitedHealthcare with little more than an idea and a business plan, but with the support of this community have been able to turn it into a business. Techstars was the first investor to actually believe in us and encouraged us before we even applied, with our mentors Matt Miller and Anna Barber telling us that our idea was something that was needed in the world.

Of course, we have gone through some tough pivots along the way. Options MD was originally a software company with a SaaS business model. After testing we determined that approach was going to be very difficult to monetize, so at the end of last year we started the process of bringing physicians onto our platform and preparing to directly deliver care. 

It was an extremely scary decision, and our advisors who came from the industry told us not to do it. They all said we had no idea how hard it is to deliver care. While they were right, one of the joys of being a founder is naivety and now I am glad that we made the pivot. I remember calling Matt Miller with tears in my eyes, I was so afraid to make that move and not knowing how to communicate it to our other investors. He walked me through the process and through that time period Techstars kept believing in us and kept investing in us.

In total we have raised $4 million, our community has more than 6,000 patients, making it one of the largest communities of treatment-resistant depression patients in the world, and we have anecdotally saved hundreds of lives through our work. 

None of this would have been possible without Techstars.