Why Wayhaven, Why Now

Christine Nicodemus
January 30, 2024
3 min read
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Those who know me as an entrepreneur generally think of me as logical, emotionally stable, and mission-driven. Those who knew me in college generally saw me as a high achieving, academically focused student (and perhaps also a good recruit for an intramural sports team). But only those who know me very well also know of my trials with mental health in my early twenties.

I experienced my first bout with major depressive disorder as a sophomore student at Wake Forest University. At the time, I happened to be studying abroad in Scotland at the University of Edinburgh. What doctors later explained to me to be a depletion of serotonin in my brain, I simply remember as being lonely and sad in my apartment, struggling to get more than a handful of hours of sleep with racing suicidal thoughts that I couldn’t seem to turn off. Decisions became painstaking: at one point, I recall going to the grocery store to pick up a toothbrush and being plagued with indecision for 10+ minutes to choose between the five or six options. Focus, one of my top strengths, had suddenly become incredibly difficult.

I felt like my life was falling apart quickly with my grades faltering and the unrealistic perception that everyone around me was judging me in all of the areas I was most self-conscious about. I felt backed into a corner that I couldn’t escape. It felt like it had been weeks since I had experienced any resemblance of joy or hope. In the end, I dropped out of college for the semester to receive outpatient CBT at the hospital, try new medication, and return to feeling like the self I used to know. 

(Smiling Christine in Scotland, invisible mental illness)

Unfortunately, my story is not all that uncommon for college students. Three quarters of people struggling with mental illnesses begin experiencing them before the age of 24, and 60% of college students met the criteria for at least one mental health problem in the 2020-21 school year (APA). Ideally, each of those students would have access to a human counselor they could regularly talk to, but achieving that would be prohibitively expensive for most campuses and certainly for most students. I am optimistic, however, for a world in which technology can extend mental health services to more students and augment the counseling experience for students between in-person sessions.

60% of college students met the criteria for at least one mental health problem in the 2020-21 school year.

At Wayhaven, we believe that an intentionally and carefully crafted AI-conversational app, built alongside trained clinical psychologists, can support students in their mental health journey. We believe there’s a need for around-the-clock chat therapy, distinct from a crisis hotline, for students like myself struggling to sleep at 1:00 in the morning and wanting to talk something out. We believe that there are students who are curious about therapy and willing to confidentially chat with an AI, but not yet willing to meet with a human counselor, due to fear or stigma. And most importantly, we believe that university leaders will partner with us in this crucial mission—embracing innovation to ensure no student has to navigate their mental health journey alone.

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