Changemaker: Text-Based Coaching for Teens

An alumna’s company meets adolescents where they are with the mental health support they need.

February 16, 2023

| by Kelsey Doyle

“How can we make mental health one, more accessible, and two, actually fun for a teenager to do?” Before founding a company, before attending Stanford GSB, Ashley Edwards, MBA ’16, worked at a charter school where 90% of the students lived in poverty. It was there that she learned how deeply affected students were by the traumas in their daily experiences. Motivated to combat the stigmas around mental health within communities of color, Edwards came to Stanford GSB with a mission to change lives.

Editor’s Note

In this ongoing video series, we showcase Stanford GSB alumni who are striving to change lives, organizations, and the world.

Through the Stanford course Startup Garage, Edwards started piloting early versions of MindRight Health, which provides live coaching and counseling through text messages. The tech startup aims not only to help a teen when crisis strikes, but also to be present for an adolescent’s day-to-day life and emotions. “Healing can look different for everyone,” Edwards says. “For some people that is clinical therapy and for other people that can be MindRight.”

It’s not just about the tough times, she says, but coaches are also there for teens to celebrate their wins.

“I think all of the coaches and clinicians on our team are helping us change lives. And by changing lives, you ultimately change the world, which I think happens when you have a community of people that are actually healed and are actually well.”

Full Transcript

Ashley Edwards: It’s incredibly important to innovate around mental health because we’ve seen that standard solutions just aren’t working. People can’t afford it. It’s super hard to find a therapist of color if you’re looking for one or someone that identifies with your cultural background. And so we need more players in the mental health space that are really, really committed to providing care that meets people where they are.

MindRight is a mental health startup based here in Newark, New Jersey, and our whole mission is around advancing health equity by making mental healthcare radically accessible and inclusive.

I’ve always been entrepreneurial and I think it runs in the family. I probably get it from my dad. He grew up here in Newark and the city is just full of the spirit of hustle and getting stuff done.

I always knew I wanted to start my own company, so growing up, Stanford would really be the dream, just given all the resources that there are. And I knew if I was surrounded in that environment, I could really make something happen. The question was what?

I worked here in education at a charter high school, not far from where we are right now, and just fell in love with that experience and working with my students, who are the most incredible, strongest people I know.

But I also saw the trauma they experienced and mental health challenges that were often unmet because no young person wants to talk to a therapist. It’s not cool. There’s a bunch of stigma and if you actually are interested, you can’t afford it. Maybe you don’t have transportation to get there.

So after seeing my students kind of face these challenges, I just thought, how can we make mental health like, one, more accessible and then, two, actually fun for a teenager to do?

To keep it simple, MindRight is coaching over text message. It’s not an app, nothing you have to download on your phone. It’s just straight texting to keep it as simple as possible and accessible as possible.

So to sign up, you just text us, then you get matched with your personal team of coaches. And every day they are proactively texting you like, “Hey Ashley, how’s your day going? How’d your basketball game go yesterday? How’s it going applying to colleges, et cetera?”

The best part is you’re talking to the same people every day. So it’s not like a traditional mental health hotline where you’re getting a different person that you don’t know. At MindRight, you really get to build a relationship with the people who are supporting you and we have people who have been texting MindRight for three to four years at this point.

The second part what makes us different is that we recognize that it’s not only important to be there for you when you’re going through a tough moment, but there’s so many young people, when something good actually happens in their lives, they don’t have someone who can actually celebrate them or who is there to help express positivity. And we’ve been told by our members that that is as important as having support when you’re going through the hard times.

Being at the GSB, you just feel like everything’s possible, and I had a bunch of dreams before I got there. But to be in a place like Stanford, where you actually are surrounded by people and resources that are committed to help you succeed, it’s amazing. I don’t think if I was anywhere else, I would’ve had that immediate support to be able to launch MindRight eventually into what it is today.

It really just expands how you think about the world and problems and solutions. So when it came to mental health and just thinking about creating a solution that could better serve my students, what I realized and what I strongly believe in is that healing can look different for everyone. For some people that is clinical therapy and for other people that can be MindRight.

I am doing work that I feel like I am truly changing lives. We are providing daily mental health support to youth who otherwise may not have access, young people who have suicidality, who have thoughts of self-harm and feel like they have no one to go to, but are able to get support from MindRight.

Think all of our coaches and our clinicians on our team are helping us change lives. And by changing lives, you ultimately change the world, which I think is what’s happened when you have a community of people that are actually healed and are actually well. That’s really what MindRight is about.

My name is Ashley Edwards, and I am the founder and CEO of MindRight Health.

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