Today we’d like to introduce you to Matthew Montañez.
Hi Matthew, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
I grew up in West Covina, CA, the youngest of three siblings. We had a relatively normal childhood, but when my brother was around 16 years old, he started experiencing symptoms of mental illness. My family and I didn’t understand what he was going through or why his behavior was so erratic. He was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia. It took many years for my family and I to understand that my brother’s behaviors were a response to the stress and anxiety of the extreme delusions and hallucinations that he was experiencing and to understand that he was dealing with a brain disorder. My brother eventually found medication that works for him and is stable now. You’d never know he had this type of disorder if he didn’t tell you. He makes friends instantly with everyone he meets and can light up a room of strangers with laughter.
I’ve lived in many parts of Los Angeles from the San Gabriel Valley to Downtown LA to Santa Monica. I’ve seen many people, often homeless, walking the streets talking to themselves, stressed and in pain. I’ve recognized the look in their eyes as the same look I’ve seen in my brother’s eyes when he was in the midst of a psychotic episode. I know that many of these people had families and friends too, who cared for them at some time, but likely burnt out from the challenges faced when caring for someone with a serious mental illness.
At about the same time that my brother began experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia, I began learning how to code. I started building websites and video games as a hobby and eventually developed a career in software engineering. I spent a lot of time throughout my career wondering how I could use my skills in technology to help families struggling with mental illness. What could I build to support them?
At the start of 2020, I started researching tech innovations in the mental health space. A lot of the current digital health focus is on common forms of mental illness like anxiety and mild depression, but I found very few companies focused on disorders like schizophrenia. During my research, I encountered another person who was also exploring opportunities to help families struggling with severe disorders, Stephanie Greer. Stephanie has a PhD in neuroscience, has developed an excellent career as a UX designer, and also loves someone who struggles with a mental disorder. We quickly realized we shared the same mission and decided to partner up.
In February 2021, we created Akin Mental Health.
We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
The stigma surrounding mental illness is real. Very few people talk about their experiences with or caring for somebody with mental illness. Growing up, I didn’t talk much about what my family was struggling with at home because I thought that nobody else would understand. I thought that my brother’s behavior was so unique that no one else could possibly relate.
In reality, about 5% of U.S. adults suffer from serious mental illness, and without a doubt, most of these people have parents, brothers, sisters, cousins, and friends who care about them deeply.
Over the years, as I’ve shared my thoughts about creating a business to serve families struggling with mental illness, a lot of my peers in the tech industry would tell me that the people that I wanted to help were too few and far between, so from a business perspective, there wouldn’t be a viable market to serve. I felt this wasn’t true intuitively, but so few people talk about their experiences with serious mental illness that I accepted this advice for a long time. The more open that I’ve become about my family’s story, the more open other people have become with me, and I’ve come to understand that far more people struggle with mental illness than anyone realizes.
Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know?
Our mission at Akin is to meaningfully improve the lives of families struggling with mental illness. We do this by serving family caregivers rather than providing direct treatment to those with the disorders themselves. There’s an excellent body of research showing that support for caregivers leads to profound positive outcomes for their loved ones but there are so few tools and services available to help caregivers navigate their own unique challenges.
Currently, we have three offerings to meet the needs of those caregivers. First, we provide a one-on-one coaching service where a family member can speak with a person experienced in navigating care for somebody with a mental illness. The goal of each session is to assess a challenge that the caregiver is currently facing such as navigating the healthcare system, managing the relationship with their loved one, or understanding the illness, and then we provide the caregiver with tools, tips, and actionable next steps to work through their specific needs.
Second, we offer interactive lessons that educate family members on mental illness and help them build communication and problem-solving skills to empower them to care for their loved one and for themselves.
Third, we offer one-on-one peer matching so that caregivers can meet and speak with another person who knows what it’s like to walk in their shoes. Our services are all available online at https://www.akinmh.com.
Alright, so to wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
We’re very early on in our journey and we thrive on feedback. Try our service and tell me what you think and how it can be better. I can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. We have a newsletter that you can subscribe to on our website https://www.akinmh.com and you can find us on Instagram and Facebook at @akinmentalhealth. If you care for somebody suffering from mental illness, we want to hear from you and we want to build tools and services to support you.
- Email: email@example.com
- Website: https://www.akinmh.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/akinmentalhealth/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Akinmentalhealth