California Names Former Google Scientist as the State’s ‘Mental Health Czar’

May 28, 2019

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Source: Stat

Noted psychiatrist and former Verily leader Dr. Tom Insel is going to be the “mental health czar” for the state of California, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday.

Insel, the former National Institute of Mental Health director, will also continue his work with Mindstrong, a startup that is working on a mental health app, a company spokesperson confirmed. Insel joined the company in 2017 after leaving Verily, Google’s life sciences arm.

Insel’s new job will be to “inform the state’s work as California builds the mental health system of tomorrow, serving people whether they are living in the community, on the streets or if they are in jails, schools or shelters,” according to a press release from the governor’s office.

In a press conference, Newsom said Insel was “volunteering” his time as an adviser. “I’m calling him the mental health czar in the state of California,” he said.

Mindstrong, which is focused on using data on how people use their smartphone to detect trends in their mental health, already has a relationship with public officials in California. One of Mindstrong’s first large-scale rollouts was slated to happen in the state through county-level public mental health systems, STAT reported in October.

A spokesperson for Mindstrong said that Insel would recuse himself from conversations about the company, and noted that he will have “no fiscal or regulatory authority and will have no oversight of current programs in this voluntary role.”

The spokespeople for Newsom and for California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly, with whom Insel will be working, did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Mindstrong raised $31 million in an expanded Series B round in January led by General Catalyst, bringing the company’s total funding to about than $60 million.

“Our excitement over Mindstrong’s technology is bolstered by our inspiration in the core founding team,” an associate and the managing partner of General Catalyst wrote in a blog post in January about the investment.

 

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