In 2014, Kana Takahashi was a bright-eyed pre-med student taking up Psychology at one of the Philippines’ top universities when one of her professors started talking to the class about mental health. “Back then, I didn’t know much about mental health,” she explains. “So when I heard my teacher talking about it, I got really curious.”
This curiosity led her to join the Youth For Mental Health Coalition — the only mental health organization in the Philippines at that time — and it was here that Kana became aware about the state of mental health in the country and the stigma faced by people with mental health concerns. Up until 2018, she immersed herself in advocacy work, learning not only about mental health but also about other causes like feminism and human rights. From attending seminars, she was soon conducting them herself; additionally, she became involved in groups that pushed for laws like the Safe Spaces Act (which increases protection against sexual harassment, among others), the bill legalizing divorce (which is still currently being deliberated in Congress), and the Philippine Comprehensive Mental Health Law (which was signed into law last June 2018).
Along the way, Kana started to reconsider her plans of becoming a doctor. “I started to ask myself why I wanted to become a doctor, and the answer I came up with was that I wanted to help people. And I realized that what I wanted was to help people now, not after four to five years of medical school.” With that in mind, Kana decided to just look for work that could sustain her financially and at the same time continue her advocacy work with the organizations she was currently affiliated with.
“I started to ask myself why I wanted to become a doctor, and the answer I came up with was that I wanted to help people. And I realized that what I wanted was to help people now, not after four to five years of medical school.”Kana Takahashi, MindNation Co-Founder and CEO
The birth of MindNation
Along with some friends, Kana co-founded MindNation in January 2020, with the initial goal of providing mental health services for organizations, as mandated by the Philippine Mental Health Law. The company started with just four people (including Kana) and one psychologist.
But in March 2020, just three months after the company launched, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Many businesses coped with lockdown measures by cutting down on expenses — including putting all talks with MindNation on the back burner.
A CEO of any other start-up would have wrung their hands and panicked, but Kana was unfazed. “I didn’t get worried because I knew that what we were doing had value,” she says. “It was just a matter of making companies understand that — especially with the pandemic — investing in people is not a waste of resources. Before the pandemic, all that companies wanted to see were numbers — ‘How can the mental health program that you are offering me boost my revenue?’ ‘What’s the ROI?’ But because of the pandemic, we were able to shift their mindset from ‘How can this benefit my business?’ to ‘How are my employees doing?’
Going above and beyond
And while other companies looked for ways to tighten their belts during the pandemic, MindNation did the opposite — they started offering their teletherapy services for FREE to the sectors most affected by COVID-19, from Philippine-based employees and students, to retrenched employees, medical frontliners, and even to members of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+ community).
“We partnered with amazing mental health advocates like Senator Risa Hontiveros, as well as LGBTQ+ organizations, and women’s organizations to offer these pro bono services,” Kana points out. “The fact that many non-government organizations were willing to work with a business like us — which is very rare — is proof that they saw the value in what we were doing,” Kana says.
Today, MindNation has a team of 50 employees and 20 psychologists, some of whom are located in other parts of the world. The company is now partners with over 40 organizations across industries, has expanded into Middle East North Africa (MENA), and is currently looking to grow more in other parts of the world. In addition, they have gone beyond offering their services solely to organizations; individuals with mental health and well-being struggles can now also avail of the company’s 24/7 teletherapy sessions.
“MindNation’s vision is to build a world where mental health is valued, accepted, and supported,” Kana explains. “And we can only do that by making mental health care accessible to all.”
Kana attributes the company’s growth and success to its team. “Every successful company has great people, people who go to work not just to work but to actually make a positive impact,” she says. “That’s what I‘m really proud of. In MindNation, we don’t work to feed the pockets of certain people, we do it because we’re working on life changing things.”
When it comes to supporting mental health in the workplace, the company walks the talk and has made the mental health programs that it offers to its client-partners available to employees as well. MindNation team members have access to 24/7 teletherapy sessions with psychologists and WellBeing Coaches and mental health leaves with pay. “The culture inside is also great, we can talk to each other about work and personal matters while maintaining a good working dynamic,” Kana shares.
Kana is looking forward to taking up post-graduate studies related to mental health so that she can grow the company more and support more employees. “Personally, I want to be able to help as many people as possible, even in little ways, whatever help looks like for them,” she affirms.