By Anna Lardinois, Startup Storyteller
A 2020 study released by the American Psychiatric Association found that “employees with unresolved depression experience a 35% reduction in productivity, contributing to a loss to the U.S. economy of $210.5 billion a year in absenteeism, reduced productivity, and medical costs.”
Since the onset of the pandemic, conventional wisdom suggests those numbers have increased significantly. Mental health, a difficult topic for many, is now a key economic concern for many employers.
Despite awareness of the wide-reaching impact of untreated mental health issues, cultural and financial barriers exist that prevent people from getting the help they need. Andy Riggs, and his new non-profit organization, Heart Head, aims to break down those barriers.
Riggs is a familiar name in Milwaukee. The veteran morning drive-time host at WXSS, Milwaukee’s KISS FM station, has been a fan favorite in the local radio scene for years. His listeners know he is a passionate advocate for men’s mental health. He has now channeled that passion into creating an organization to help people access, and pay for, the mental health help they need.
Heart Head’s mission is “to make mental health care and therapy both affordable and attainable to everyone, regardless of financial situation or insurance coverage.” To access support from the organization, people only need to fill out an online form to begin the process.
Riggs is candid on his radio show about his therapy visits. His listeners responded.
“I heard over and over again from people saying, ‘I would love to see a therapist, but I just can’t afford it,’” he said. “I kept seeing all of these little roadblocks that people were hitting, and I thought, ‘these are simple roadblocks to remove’. … To begin, we’re working with some local therapists to get them to donate their time pro bono so that we can help people that way.”
The organization will focus on fundraising in the coming year to expand their network of caregivers.
“Finding the right therapist can be hard for a lot of people,” he said. “(They need) somebody that you can really relate to and some people need someone that looks like them or has walked like them.”
Riggs adds: “If you’re from an underserved community, from the Black community, Latino community, or maybe you’re from the veteran world, or are a first responder, sometimes people like to talk to someone who’s walked the path that gives them credibility. … I don’t know how to deal with that, but I know that I could put them in touch with someone that could help them. So that’s what we’re able to do is help. Not just one certain group of people, but everybody.”
While everyone is included in Heart Head’s plan to offer financial assistance with mental health costs, Riggs is passionate about mental health care for men. When his beloved uncle died by suicide, he got involved with efforts to destigmatize mental health care.
“Men have a higher suicide rate than women by three times,” Riggs said. “Men are more likely to suffer in silence. Men are more reluctant to reach out for help because they feel like its (a sign of) weakness reaching out for help.”
It is the focus on men’s mental health that was the inspiration for the first fund-raiser for the newly launched non-profit group.
“MeatFest will be a meat cooking competition, so amateurs or professionals can come and grill their meats, cook their meats and the public will be there to sample plates and vote on the winner,” Riggs said. “Traditionally, men have met to hang out, grilling during tailgating or on the weekends. I think some men even use grilling as a form of therapy. It can be very cathartic for a lot of men. So that’s my ulterior motive, to pull in a bunch of men and talk to them about their mental health. But it’s really for anybody who enjoys a good grilled meat.”
The organization hopes the fundraiser will increase awareness of the newly formed non-profit and encourage people to get involved in the effort to connect people with mental health services.
“I would like to help people financially with therapy, regardless of income. Some people make an okay salary but still struggle to make ends meet,” Riggs said. “They struggle to pay for doctors, struggle to pay for medical bills. I don’t want someone to think, ‘Well, I probably make too much money to get help with therapy.’ No, you don’t. If you need help with therapy, you should get it. Mental health is health. it’s all the same.”