2 people holding each other's hands.
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FiveSteps: Online gym for mental fitness

Northern innovations worthy of successful marketing. The NOM Prevention Challenge is there to help entrepreneurs achieve that. On April 11 is the finals of the competition, with which 10,000 euros in marketing and guidance from the NOM can be won. In the finals, three nominees will compete for the title: DrHealthy, FitGaaf and FiveSteps.

Imagine a Netflix-like environment where you find a menu to improve or maintain your mental health. That could be a workshop on dealing with adversity, a mindfulness course, a learning journey on social media, meetings on making personal plans, bootcamps on work and parenting and more. That's what FiveSteps is building.

The idea for the digital platform is from life. Sjoerd van Dekken was struggling with too much work stress five years ago. ,,I was looking for something to take care of myself, but couldn't find it. Quick tips were not enough, and I didn't want to go to the doctor right away. Something in between was missing, and that's what we created. Myself? Yes, I definitely would have taken advantage of it at the time. And even if you're feeling well, there's plenty with us. We prefer not to talk about stress, but about mental resilience. That's good for everyone. On our platform you prevent mental problems. That's the way to see it.''

By that "we," e-health specialist Van Dekken also means care manager Jona Mol, familiar with mental health care. ,,Sjoerd and I met after we had previously worked together at GGZ Friesland. We got talking about it and concluded together that something like what we had in mind didn't exist yet. So we decided to make it ourselves.''

Quite a few e-health solutions against stress exist in "the field. What is mostly missing, according to the two, is human contact. Van Dekken: ,,That is different with us. We have a whole team of specialists connected to the platform. They give various workshops and trainings, but are also there for personal contact with the users. This can also be done anonymously.''

Those workshops themselves are also live and mostly interactive. Users can respond, share experiences, chat, fill out polls. Mol: ,,And sometimes it really is a working class. Then they are busy writing their own plans, for example. Or we do meditations in which all students just participate. That is much more effective than one-way communication.''

A thousand mental athletes

The online gym for mental fitness is now primarily marketed through companies. Employers take out subscriptions, offering their employees the opportunity to work on their mental health in a low-threshold way. Mol: ,,We believe that you should take care of your mind as much as your body. And more and more employers agree.''

The startup is growing. And it needs to, because the two founders want to offer a helping hand to as many people as possible. The number of online sessions still needs to increase significantly, and they are working hard to do so. The online gym now accommodates about a thousand "mental athletes. To increase that number significantly, the next step is now an online gym for the private market. That moment should come before the summer.

''We firmly believe that this is going to help healthcare,'' says Sjoerd van Dekken. ''Mental complaints can lead to discomforts that ultimately require care. Those who are mentally resilient can handle more and are less likely to end up at the doctor's office or with a specialist.'' For that reason, the two are holding talks with employers - who will have an instrument against dropout due to illness - and health insurers, who may be able to save costs.

The NOM Prevention Challenge is important to enable that step to market. ,,We want to collect a lot of feedback to make the product better and more comprehensive. And we also need sophisticated marketing to reach as many people as possible. That's where the money that comes with the challenge could help us a lot, as could the support from the NOM.''