In the middle of a global pandemic, mental health is more important than ever, and Andrew Riesen, Gonzaga alum and co-founder and CEO of Heard Mental Health, is working to make sure mental health care providers can keep up with the increased demand for their services.
Riesen graduated from GU in 2015 with a degree in business administration and concentrations in finance and accounting. After entering the workforce at PwC, a company that specializes in assurance, tax and consulting services, Riesen realized soon after that he wasn’t meant to have a career in accounting.
“I realized I would have a lot of time on my hands without having to study," Riesen said via email. "I took that time and invested in myself. It was the best decision I ever made."
Riesen then worked with PwC to build software and launch a new startup in the organization, which he said helped him understand how to build a software startup. This experience allowed him to create Heard Mental Health in 2019, combining his interests in building startups and mental health.
"Heard Mental Health builds software for mental health professionals, who often times are overworked, isolated and undervalued," Riesen said.
Heard’s goal is to help therapists reach their full potential by providing them with a powerful platform.
“During the pandemic, our goal has been to do everything we can to ensure that mental health providers feel valued,” he said.
“I think it’s a perfect combination and I think it’s exactly what Gonzaga as a university is trying to train our students to do, use their technical and their institutional knowledge that they’ve gained through GU to leverage the mechanisms and the corporate form to effect positive social change and positive quality of life changes for individuals in need,” said Gerhard Barone, an associate professor of accounting who knew Riesen while he was a student at GU.
Barone said he remembers Riesen as a positive and energetic student who always had a smile on his face.
“I did not know what at the time or even up until recently he had been struggling with during his time before GU and at GU," Barone said. "A little bit of that knowledge makes sense in terms of his performance, but I do remember him being very positive and very outgoing."
One thing that shocks Barone when he hears about mental health is how many young people are significantly impacted by it.
“It’s great that he’s trying to find his role in addressing this issue,” Barone said.
“Follow what you’re passionate about, even if it’s not your chosen major because you never know what people you’re going to run into, what experiences you’re going to have that you’re going to be able to intertwine together and really be able to do what you are really interested in and what really energizes you and gets you out of bed every day,” Barone said.
Riesen said he has struggled with mental health since he was a kid, and has dealt with depression, anxiety and panic attacks. He said he used to be ashamed of these mental health struggles, but ultimately prioritizing his mental health led him to create Heard.
“I would always say that you [should] follow what you are passionate about and interested in, even if your chosen major doesn’t seem applicable,” Barone said. “[Riesen] was an accounting and finance major, and now he’s putting together a mental health service that leverages some of the things that he’s learning.”
Riesen said he is inspired by the resilience mental health professionals across the country have shown in their responses to not only the growing demand for mental health services, but also in their response to the pandemic and racial trauma as well.
“Many therapists are feeling the same stressors that we are as a society,” Riesen said. “They are asked to respond and stand tall amongst widespread suffering, all whilst managing an intense cognitive load.”
Many students are impacted by mental health issues as well, and Riesen said that acknowledging those emotions and distress can be overwhelming is the first step any student struggling with mental health should take.
He said distress can have an impact on your ability to think, as well as your ability to engage with schoolwork, your community and your friends.
If anyone is struggling with mental health, they should try to seek professional help, and talk to someone they trust about what they are going through, he said.
“We often try to push these thoughts and feelings away but often that makes them bounce back stronger,” Riesen said.