Today: Jul 22, 2024

Chat-based startup partners with schools, easing student stress with support.

7 months ago

TLDR:

  • Startup Clayful aims to connect students with mental health coaches via text message to help address stress and provide support in real-time.
  • More than a dozen schools in Washington state have begun offering Clayful as a supplement to traditional counseling sessions.
  • The platform is available in dozens of languages and emphasizes the importance of diversity among its coaches.
  • Founder Maria Barrera hopes to make the platform accessible to every student in the U.S.

Schools across the country need more mental health counselors, but they’re not always available. The startup Clayful aims to connect students with mental health coaches via text message. In her every-other-week private counseling appointments with teenagers, Seattle-based therapist Emily Irwin will often ask “what’s on your heart? What’s on your brain?” These stresses start to stack up between appointments, Irwin said, and it can take a toll on a student’s mental health. But in her other role as a coach on the mental health platform Clayful, Irwin can respond to texts from students right away. “Then you have real-time access to support in the moment of having, maybe heightened emotions or a difficulty,” Irwin said.

More than a dozen schools in Washington state have begun offering Clayful. It lets students send a text message to a mental health coach and receive a quick response. Federal Way Public Schools, for example, is gearing the platform toward middle school students as they prepare for high school. It comes as schools across the country have had trouble finding enough mental health professionals to go around.

Clayful isn’t meant to replace traditional counseling sessions, but supplement them. Irwin said a back-and-forth via text, can help start a conversation. Clayful, a startup based in Florida, was founded by Maria Barrera. After she read about suicide rates among children, she was determined to do something to turn young people’s obsession with their phones, into a positive. Clayful said its coaches are vigorously screened and parents can opt-out if they don’t want their children participating.

Help through Clayful is available in dozens of languages and Barrera said 60% of its coaches are BIPOC. Barrera, who was born in Colombia and moved to the U.S. when she was 10, said that shared connection can come through – even if the chat is anonymous. Barrera has a lofty goal for the platform – to make it accessible to every student in the U.S.