Lennie Carter is Retooling Digital Mental Health Services
By Kassidy Brown
Growing up in Brooklyn, Lennie Carter witnessed the firsthand effects of untreated mental illness.
“The typical person growing up in Brooklyn is labeled as crazy. Mental Illness is looked at as a disability as opposed to more of a health concern,” said Carter, CEO of TruCircle.
Today, he’s behind a platform that allows users to find licensed mental health professionals within their network. Although he’s making strides as a tech founder in mental health, Carter attributes a painful situation as the inspiration behind the app.
“My brother lost his best friend in 2015. The day after the anniversary of my mother’s death. After validating the information, I had to call my brother to share the news. He was crying on the phone,” Carter recalled. “The biggest challenge was how do I support him? I’m living in New York and he’s in Ohio. At the time, there were no tech-enabled solutions to support both him and a therapist. That’s when I came up with the idea to use technology to address mental health-related issues. ”
As a young man, Carter recalls struggling to manage his mental clarity after the death of his mother.
“It was a challenging time. I coped by listening to music and drinking alcohol at times. I didn’t know how to cope as I was depending on vices. I didn’t realize that the things I was doing were coping and not addressing.”
Soon, Carter realized he couldn’t heal on his own.
“A loved one realized my habits weren’t healthy. I wasn’t eating or sleeping properly. Essentially, they recommended therapy. At the time, I carried the stigma as well. However, they went through the therapeutic process with me, and that opening my eyes to therapy in general. Having that support system was the bridge that connected me to recovery. Without their support, I would have never gone.”
As he faced his personal struggles head on, Carter went on to earn a degree in Business Management and a Master’s in Human Resources. TruCircle officially launched in January 2018. The company boasts 3,000+ on-demand therapists to choose from with 10,000+ monthly users.
He’s a recent Founder Gym graduate, a training program for underrepresented tech founders.
“Building a healthcare tech startup has its challenges in itself. You have to learn specific laws and regulations on the federal and state level. The healthcare space is constantly evolving and growing so we had to learn and grow with it. Sustaining and growing a business with little to no outside finances also proved to be challenging.”
“When people do not have the education or knowledge, it makes it challenging for them to move on from difficult situations with confidence. People don’t necessarily trust the process of therapy because of a lack of knowledge. They don’t know what the therapy process looks like. They may be molded by what they see on television,” he said.
TruCircle wants to diminish preconceived notions related to the therapy process by making it accessible to all regardless of wealth or socioeconomic factors.
“Our approach is to help people to become more knowledgeable and informed. Pricing is a huge barrier to break as well,” Carter said. “With our app, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get the help you need.”
Carter says stress, anxiety, and grief are common areas were TruCircle users seek assistance. The company prides itself on practices cultural humility and competence, placing great emphasis on individuals finding a therapist or group that is suitable for them.
“Just having a therapist that looks like you, doesn’t mean the therapist is right for you,” Carter said. “We pride ourselves on making sure the therapists are placed on a visual and diverse platform. This helps to open the door to conversation. The people who are vetted and put through TruCircle, they aren’t going to judge you or look at you differently because of where you came from or look like.”
According to a study by The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 77% of U.S. counties had a shortage of mental health professionals in 2006. While that number shifted in the last decade, the latest figures from physician recruiting firm, Merritt Hawkins shows a growing demand for mental health services and lack of professionals to meet the needs. According to theAssociation of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), there is a shortage of psychiatrists with three in five practicing are age 55 or older.
“Trucircle is bringing diversity to mental health in a way that hasn’t been seen yet. There aren’t any tech solutions out there dedicated to communities who need it the most,” Carter said.
Not only is TruCircle providing a diverse and open platform for patients, the app is filled with resources for their mental health professionals. Carter personally screens therapists prior to bringing them on board. He discusses the mission, determines their alignments with the company, and learns about their goals.
“Currently we’re working on the process of building educational tools that focus on training of cultural competence. In addition, we do have online availability for therapists to be trained in multiple areas. We also have the tools to train on how to overcome a crisis situation over the phone and body language.”
Carter and his team won the 2015 Neighborhood Start Fund, cofounded by Lupe Fiasco which provided pre-seed funding for the company.
“They gave us the starting point to get TruCircle off of the ground. Their mission was strategically focused on solving problems in communities that don’t look like Silicone Valley. You can be from Brooklyn or Chicago or South Central LA and still have an opportunity to have access to Silicon Valley.”
One of the leading influencers in Carter’s career is a network of mental health professionals inside Black Therapists Rock. As a board member, Carter works to meet the needs of underserved communities and helping professionals grow in their career. He contributed to an anthology tackling mental health in communities of color, written in association with Black Therapists Rock.
“Although I am the face of TruCircle, I am thankful for the people, organizations, and programs that have helped TruCircle make it this far. The support has helped me through my own mental health challenges through entrepreneurship,” Carter said. “My primary goal for TruCircle is to become the primary tool for mental health professionals to engage their clients. We have key features coming in the future that we will enhance our product to have a one-stop shop for therapists to connect with their clients.”