I don’t typically suffer from depression. But, recently my whole life got turned upside down and all of the roles that I fully stepped into (like being a wife, an entrepreneur, a dog mom, just to name a few) that I thought defined me in totality came crumbling down. What I was left with was my self. And honestly, I got a little out of touch with what that meant. Somehow I got swept up by the glittery labels and unwittingly neglected who I was as an individual.
Furthermore, all of the fissures in my life that I had powered through up until now became glaringly evident. Some may call it a mid-life crisis. But, the name doesn’t really matter. All I know is that who and what I thought I was, no longer exists. While I certainly have a solid base, it was obvious to me that it was finally time to ‘choose me’ wholeheartedly and stop hoping or expecting someone or something to come along and do the work for me. I now know that type of thinking is misguided. Looking to the outside world to fill internal voids will never work—and believe me, I have tried. It has taken 46 years of living to finally see that it’s no one’s responsibility but my own to rescue myself.
To be completely honest, what I have been working through has been one of the scariest, loneliest, and most discombobulating times in my life. Rather than go on antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, I sought an alternative with an at-home ketamine treatment plan with Mindbloom.
Launched in 2019, Mindbloom is the first mental health and wellness platform in the field of psychedelic telemedicine and was founded by Dylan Beynon, who is also the company’s CEO. “I founded Mindbloom to put a dent in human suffering and create these transformational client stories like these. Besides COVID-19, the mental health epidemic is the number one public health crisis in the U.S. This crisis is personal to me — I grew up with serious mental illness in my family, and lost my mother to schizophrenia, addiction, homelessness, and eventually overdose,” Beynon tells me.
Beynon believes that there are two main reasons the U.S. is losing its fight against the mental health crisis including poor outcomes in addition to lack of access to care. “Traditional treatments for depression and anxiety simply aren’t very effective. For example, only 40-47% of people who take conventional SSRI/SNRI antidepressants see improvement of symptoms,” he explains. “These antidepressants also cause side effects in over 50% of patients, including sexual dysfunction, weight gain, and insomnia. Talk therapy has been shown to be even less effective at treating depression than SSRI and SNRI antidepressants.”
Finding a good therapist that you connect with can also be a challenge and when you do, many of them only accept cash for payment.
“Mental health treatments are notoriously expensive. People wait weeks or months for appointments and traveling to offices or clinics can be inconvenient or impossible. As a result, over 50% of adults with mental illness do not receive treatment,” continues Beynon. “Mindbloom is improving outcomes and increasing access by supporting the provision of ketamine therapy through telemedicine. Over 80% of Mindbloom clients achieve significant improvement in symptoms of anxiety or depression symptoms after four sessions, and over 90% report some improvement after just two sessions. Only about 5% of Mindbloom clients report side effects from treatment. These outcomes are significantly better than the 40-47% responsiveness rate and 50% side effect rate for SSRI/SNRI antidepressants.”
Mindbloom also reports their outcomes are higher than outcomes for standard ketamine treatments with improvements in 65-70% of patients.
“We attribute the increased efficacy of Mindbloom treatment programs to the combination of medicine with coaching and content in a structured program personalized for each client’s needs.” By leveraging telemedicine and facilitating at-home treatments, Mindbloom has removed some of the pain points of getting into a doctor’s office or clinic. “There are over 200 providers on Mindbloom’s platform, and the average time to get an appointment with an affiliated psychiatric clinician is only about 11 days. Mindbloom is available to 56% of Americans today, and we expect to increase that number to over 70% by April 2022. And Mindbloom treatments cost $110-$190 per session, in contrast to ketamine infusion clinics which can charge $600-$1200 per session,” Beynon tells me.
So what is ketamine and why is it helpful for depression and anxiety?
“Ketamine is a medicine that can be prescribed off-label to treat depression, anxiety, and other mental health-related conditions. It was first approved by the FDA in 1970 as an anesthetic, and has been listed on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines since 1985,” responds Dr. Leonardo Vando, Medical Director at Mindbloom. “The first study demonstrating ketamine’s effectiveness in treating depression was published by Yale in 2001. Since then, a growing body of research has shown it is effective and safe not only in treating depression, but also in treating anxiety, PTSD, OCD, and other conditions. Thousands of providers, including myself, have been prescribing ketamine therapy for years and have seen exceptional outcomes and safety for our clients.”
Vando goes on to tell me that research has shown that people who suffer from anxiety and depression tend to have reduced neural connectivity in areas of the brain associated with emotional regulation. “Ketamine has been shown to produce chemical reactions that enhance neuroplasticity, which is the ability of brain cells to form new neural connections and pathways. By improving neural connectivity, ketamine can rapidly reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. We encourage those interested in learning more to read our in-depth resource on the neuroscience of ketamine.”
Ketamine can also produce a state of dissociation, which Vando describes as separation from our external and internal information.
“By external information, I mean sensory input—sounds, smells, tactile sensations, etc. By internal information, I mean the mental processes that make up our experience and consciousness—not just thoughts and memories, but also the ways in which we relate to thoughts and memories, and the patterns we use to assimilate information,” explains Vando. When we experience dissociation we can feel separated from our bodies, our normal sense of self, time, and even our egos while still being able to actively think, remember and feel. “The difference is that we can do those things without the usual emotional connections and mental pathways that our brains have become conditioned to. We can escape negative patterns built up over time, and form new connections to more positive states of mind. This effect is enhanced by ketamine’s ability to stimulate the production and release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which research has shown to support neuroplasticity.”
Vando emphasizes that ketamine therapy needs to be supported with proper preparation prior to the treatment and integration afterward. All prospective Mindbloom clients receive a full medical and psychiatric evaluation by a licensed psychiatric clinician in order to determine whether the treatment is appropriate. Once that is determined, Mindbloom pairs each of its clients with both a psychiatric clinician and a ‘psychedelic guide’, who as a care team meet with clients virtually to help ‘integrate’ what they learn from treatments throughout the course of a six-session treatment plan. “Mindbloom’s affiliated clinicians and guides play such an important role—they help clients set intentions and integrate their experiences so that new connections and pathways are reinforced and remain durable over time.”
Once your evaluation is squared away and you are determined to be a good candidate for treatment, your ketamine arrives to your door in a Mindbloom box that comes with a blood pressure monitor to ensure your blood pressure is in a normal range since ketamine can elevate it, a journal to set intentions prior to treatment and to write down thoughts afterward, and a mask to cover your eyes should you choose.
Mindbloom’s treatment program includes tablets that are dissolved under the tongue. “We have found that this route of administration is optimal for at-home use because it is simple and safe to administer, and provides for a peak experience that lasts for about 30-45 minutes,” explains Vando. “Sublingual administration is similar to intravenous (IV) ketamine in that it produces its main effects by direct absorption and diffusion across the blood-brain barrier, while bypassing liver breakdown. However, sublingual tablets are easier to administer than IV, and they avoid some of the risks associated with IV administration.”
After having four of my six my treatments, I am already feeling less anxious and significantly less depressed. In full disclosure, this wasn’t my first ketamine experience. I was a 90s club kid after all and dabbled with several psychedelic and mind altering substances—so I had an idea of what I was getting into. In hindsight, I can now see why I gravitated to this substance. However, this was the first time I embarked on a therapeutic form, which I will say it is a completely different experience.
There are a few details about the experience that I think are worth pointing out to anyone considering this route. As an avid believer and student of vibrational medicine I love the curated soundtrack that Mindbloom offers to go along with each treatment session. Many of the songs incorporate healing vibrations, like Solfeggio Frequencies or binaural beats. If you have never been exposed to these types of sounds, they may seem strange when you explore your portal to listen to them while you are not on ketamine. But, I assure you that the music helps facilitate a pleasant, thought-provoking, and even spiritual journey into yourself.
I also had the most wonderful guide, Asha. She was very sweet, incredibly perceptive, and with the right dose of straight shooting. She has helped take my intentions and turn them in tangible actions for me to work on. I really felt a connection with her right from the jump, which when you are facing hard truths about yourself is incredibly important.
Another thing I think is worth mentioning is that while I felt invigorated after my treatments, I did notice a few days after my first treatment that thoughts of old trauma came up that I hadn’t thought about in years. So, I was curious if that was to be expected because it seems a little antithetical to feel depressed when you are embarking on a treatment for just that.
“Ketamine treatment sessions can be difficult, and in some cases can release unprocessed trauma and repressed memories. While this can make some sessions challenging, it can also lead to healing,” explains Vando. ”This underscores why every patient should be screened by a trained mental health professional to look for certain signs of unsuitability for treatment. Likewise, having adequate support is an important part of the ketamine treatment process. This is why Mindbloom’s affiliated clinicians and Guides are the foundation of our treatment programs—they ensure that clients receive treatment that is medically appropriate, and that they approach and receive treatment in a manner that is conducive to healing.” This made absolute sense to me since I have packed away most of my trauma mostly because I didn’t have the luxury of unpacking it because I had to think about survival.
Drugs can get a bad rap. Having explored ketamine in my younger days, it always came with a good dose of shame and guilt. Perhaps it is because I was raised in the height of the ‘war on dugs’ era and was persistently told that drugs were bad. So somewhere in my brain this sentiment was echoed. But, when you really think about it, that line of thinking makes literally zero sense. Why are alcohol, Xanax, Valium, and so many other drugs labeled ‘good’ when they can do just as much harm as any other substance, if abused?
At the end of the day, we all need to do our own research and chose what is best for us to achieve our definition of health. The path I have taken may not be right for you. But, perhaps me sharing my experience will have you think about an alternative way of going about achieving your own mental health goals.
I know I started this article off sounding like gloom and doom. But between Mindbloom and all of the other therapy I am in, I no longer feel lost. Don’t get me wrong. I still have plenty of work to do. And I know once I arrive to what I think is my destination, I am sure there will be more work to do to achieve my personal goal of being the healthiest I possibly can be mind, body, and spirit. But I have been reminded that that is all I have control over in this wild world. Choosing ourselves as a priority isn’t selfish despite many of us often being told so by both our parents and society.
I am excited to see how I feel at the end of my ketamine journey. One of the best parts is that I don’t need to be on long-term medications to feel better. Some say ketamine is the anti-medication medication and I would have to agree. I strongly believe that we all need to take ownership of our mental health. If we all embarked on this journey, the world could be a much more stable place for everyone in it. I appreciate Mindbloom leading the way on at-home ketamine therapy and democratizing access to achieving mental health. I have to say that my mind has officially bloomed and I couldn’t be more grateful.