Using Technology To Improve The Self-Care Of Those Facing Mental Health Challenges
I had the pleasure of interviewing Kevin Dedner, the founder and CEO of Henry Health. Kevin is an experienced public health professional with experience working on a variety of public health issues. But, he has decided to devote the next chapter of his career to the emotional and mental health of black men and he sees technology as the solution.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I’m Kevin Dedner, and I am the founder and CEO of Henry Health. I have spent my professional career working on a variety of public health issues; everything from tobacco control, HIV/AIDS to childhood obesity. Several years ago, I became interested in the stress associated with being a black male and data was very compelling about the impact of stress on the health and well-being of black men. As the saying goes, “life imitates art,” and through a series of my own life events, I found myself in a period of depression. I struggled through that experience, and as I found my own path to recovery, I realized that so many others are suffering. Last fall, Oliver Sims asked me a simple question, “What do you want to work on in health IT?” And, that is how Henry Health was born. With Oliver serving as the COO of Henry Health, our goal is to build a new digital app and platform to provide self-care support and mental health services to black men. Our mission is clear: to share the message with everyone, especially Black Men that mental health issues are not a weakness.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Since beginning the journey to startup Henry Health, I’ve been have been talking to men from all walks of life, from all over the country. We call these conversations “discoveries.” Through these discoveries, I have found is that no matter who you are and where you are in life, you have a story. We all have experience of some suffering, some traumatic event, or some event that knocks us off our feet. Time and time again, I found is that most men have just pushed through these life events. They did not have to help that they needed. In many ways, these conversations…the discoveries have been so disheartening because you realize the level of suffering that is taking place. Yet these discoveries have reaffirmed one thing: there is a genuine need for Henry Health.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Henry Health dares to believe that we can convince black men that seeking help is not a weakness but rather a sign of strength. And, when we do this, the benefit will be far-reaching. We will add years back to the life expectancy of black men and add quality of life back to these years. Not only that, these men will be better fathers, husbands, and leaders within their communities and society as a whole. When I became depressed, it actually took me months to realize I was depressed As an entrepreneur, you have the privilege of making your own schedule. It’s not uncommon to take a day or two to recover from an intense period. I came to the point that I realized that I didn’t feel like doing anything had lasted for a couple of months. It was at that point that I decided to go and get help. The experience was challenging for me. I struggled to find competent care, and I wrestled with my provider to try to get a provider who I felt could help me admitted to their network. I ended up paying out of pocket to see someone who I credit for helping me to get my life back on track. Ironically, he is the Chief Clinical Officer of our company today. Because of that experience, I am some would say, intense about the benefits of Henry Health. It is said that the best businesses solve a problem that the business person as had themselves. That is certainly true in my case.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Currently, we are in the initial phase of our seed round, and we are also building our MVP. So my time is focused on raising funds and determining what our minimum viable product will look like. It’s exciting because every conversation leads to another discussion, another discovery. For years, I have given speeches at conferences and participated on panels about how bad things are. I have had enough of that. Through technology, we can be very creative and innovative in our thinking as we build a tangible solution that can meet the needs of black men. I am very excited about building Henry Health. Right now, there are no bad ideas. And when you think of where we are with technology today, with artificial intelligence, with science…the possibilities are infinite.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
I think what every CEO or founder must realize is that he or she can’t build alone. My advice is this: the power is in the team. I am very proud of the founding team of Henry Health. We all bring our collective talents to the table. Everyone has a voice, and when you invite someone to the team, you believe they have something to contribute. Therefore, they deserve to be heard. Lastly, I check in with my team by asking them a straightforward question: if you hit the lottery tomorrow, would you still be on this team? In other words: are you fundamentally committed to this mission? As a leader/founder/CEO, if you can communicate a vision that is embraced and adopted, I believe that in return, you create a level of commitment in your team that will guarantee success.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
I have been fortunate to have many teachers in my life. Some have remained constants in my life, and some have only been in my life for a season. Dr. Nola Royster was just in my life for a season. She was an administrator at my alma mater the University of Arkansas. Dr. Royster passed away a few years after I graduated but, I still hear her voice often. She would remind me that I was “young gifted and black.” and I believed her. She was a mentor, and honestly, I think she is now my guardian angel. I miss her dearly, and I am grateful for how she taught me to believe in myself and my dreams. I believe she would be proud of Henry Health.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I want to be a force for goodwill. There as a time in my life that I enjoyed politics. Now, I find the discussion of politics to very divisive and manipulative, and as a country, we are in a period of time that will become a very dark and ugly chapter of our history. It’s essential for all of us to pause and think about what we are doing to make the world a better place. I try to use my voice to build up not to tear down. To champion, not destroy. The true measure of my impact on the world is yet to come…perhaps years from now a young black man will be sharing with his children and grandchildren how an app called Henry Health saved his life.
Can you share the top five lessons that you have learned from your experience as a “Black Man In Tech?”
1. Trust the Universe, everything happens for a reason.
There are no coincidences; I am amazed at how things, people, and conversations come back full circle. For example, when I first sat down with my Chief Clinical Officer, I would have never imagined that I would go back to him and ask him to be a part of a company.
2. Don’t be afraid to lead with your heart.
My mother use to say, “that from the heart reaches the heart.” I have learned that there is power is shedding our mask and telling our stories.
3. Be open to your help showing up.
I have met people within the last year who have become very instrumental in my life. But, I had to be open to them showing up and giving me the support that I needed. This is so important because none of us are really superheroes; we all need some level of support from others. Sure, we can be talented, but we aren’t gifted at everything.
4. Be a good steward of what you have.
I try my best to teach my children what I call, “stewardship.” To me, that simply means showing gratitude for what you already have. You do that by taking care of the things and people in your life. So that plays out even when you think about your talents, time and resources.
5. Take time for yourself.
I have made a decision to take good care of myself. It’s funny because a friend just pressed me on this a few days ago, her push was, “how can you say that you promote healthy living and not be a walking example?” She’s right. So, every day, I am making time for myself. Time to think and process my thoughts, feelings and the conversations that have. Time to eat a healthy meal, to hear a song or two. And, on some days, I even stop and literally smell the flowers.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
I read a quote a few days ago that was so profound that I had to write it down…I wish I knew who originally said it, but it said, “Once you can recognize your own suffering, and be relieved of that suffering, then you see that so many others are suffering and then, in fact, you are empowered to alleviate their suffering.”
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)
It’s funny, if you had asked me that question a few years ago my answer would be totally different. I’m convinced that success is tied to mindset. So many of us have been taught to believe that things are true when they aren’t. Deep down, we have been limited by our thought patterns. Right now, I am working overtime to deprogram myself of these false narratives. Lately, I have been watching Oprah Winfrey’s “Super Soul Sunday.” I admire and, in a good way, I envy how she has been able to elevate her thinking. If I had the chance to meet her, I would thank her for helping me to navigate this journey to clearer thinking. This is a journey that I think we should all be traveling.