Group therapy harnesses the strength of community to augment traditional one-on-one therapy through shared conversations with others who experience similar struggles. However, the insidious, creeping nature of mental health issues means that the suffering alleviated by airing feelings among peers can reappear and deepen during long, isolated stretches of time between meetings.
Sunrise Health, a new digital wellness service, seeks to offset the damaging effects that loneliness can have on mental health patients. Their app offers users a forum with support around the clock: an always accessible, anonymous group chat where patients can vent their pain safely, guarded by AI algorithms against the abusive language of online trolls.
Sunrise’s signup process prompts users to pinpoint their particular issue among the spectrum of mental health maladies including depression, grief, PTSD, and substance abuse. Following that first step comes a professional analysis and diagnosis conducted by a licensed moderator; this allows patients to be placed accurately into a group of about a dozen people who cope with similar problems.
Once enrolled, patients can participate in therapist-guided group phone calls, which replicate the experience of a face-to-face therapy session. What sets Sunrise apart is the fact that after the phone session, group members can keep in touch anonymously and at all times. The incognito yet personal ultra-accessibility of Sunrise Health’s chat system means no matter who they may be, patients are always within reach of a compassionate shoulder to help alleviate the dread of long hours spent with no other company than uncomfortable thoughts.
While the system is still in development, a beta version was recently unveiled during TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield competition. Sunrise Health’s co-founders, Shrenik Jain and Ravi Shah plan to keep their app free for users by presenting it as software-as-a-service and charging healthcare providers a monthly fee to offer Sunrise Health to patients as a method of effective preventative care, thus reducing overall medical costs.
With 1 in 5 Americans affected by mental illness—a third of whom live without treatment—it’s clear that more accessible and personalized solutions are needed. Established chat-based therapy apps, like Talkspace and Ginger.io, offer some options such as one-on-one chats with professionals, or a limited allotment of messages through group exchange, but often charge users exorbitant fees.
Sunrise Health stakes its success not on patients’ wallets, but their desire for mutual improvement. Granted, the app still requires vigorous testing to determine whether its continuous, patient-driven group chat really enacts tangible benefits as an in-person treatment alternative. In principle however, combining the community support of group therapy with the ease of access and flexible timing of digital media seems like a logical step in the right direction.