Founder's Story - Shaping the Future of Mental Health Care for Ethnic Minorities
Updated: Jan 24
I'm Alice Zhang, co-founder of Anise Health. I'm currently a second year MBA student at Harvard Business School (HBS). Before we start our journey together, I would like to introduce myself.
Growing up, I spent the majority of my childhood and adolescent years in Japan and Canada while being raised by Chinese parents. Moving to a completely foreign country twice at a fairly young age (from China to Japan at age 5 and Japan to Canada at age 11) has heavily shaped who I am today; it has allowed me to understand three very different cultures, as well as appreciate their similarities and differences. Living in a multicultural setting with many conflicting values has not always been easy, but on the bright side, it has taught me to see things from multiple perspectives while recognizing that most things don't have a single "right" answer.
Every time I moved to a new country, city or school, the new people with whom I became friends were crucial to making the new place feel a little more like "home." These life transitions equipped me with the invaluable ability to connect with people regardless of their backgrounds. From an early age, I recognized the basic human need for connection, which motivated me to see people for who they are and understand them as individuals. The people I met in my transitions enabled me to develop deep empathy and compassion for others, reflecting some of what they have given me over the years.
As someone who has always deeply cared about my friends, the experience of a close friend developing bipolar disorder during high school in Canada left a big mark on my life. At 15 years old, I didn't know the first thing about mental health. I tried my best to support my friend, but my mere emotional support was not enough. My friend, unbeknownst to me, did not adhere to treatments and medications and as a result went through significant ups and downs, taking me along for a wild roller coaster ride. It was the first time I felt completely helpless, despite all my efforts to help. It also opened my eyes to the millions of people who are suffering in silence and not getting the proper care due to societal stigma and a lack of awareness about mental health issues.
As a result of this experience, I decided to major in biopsychology in order to learn about the neurobiological basis of human behavior. However, the more I immersed myself in the clinical aspects of mental health, the more clearly I realized how stigma and structural issues around access were contributing to underutilization of care. Furthermore, through my coursework and research in the field of cross-cultural psychology, I also saw the importance of incorporating cultural context in the discipline of psychology, which to date has largely been developed based on a Western view of the human mind and society.
Upon graduation, I spent a total of six years working for a management consulting firm and subsequently for a private equity fund with a focus on the healthcare industry. Both of these experiences have enabled me to gain a deeper understanding of the sector. It has been my goal to pursue opportunities in the mental health space at HBS, where I was able to reaffirm the need for improved access to quality mental health services in the US. At the same time, I was shocked by the disproportionately low utilization of mental health services by ethnic minorities in the country, a situation driven by a myriad of additional barriers they face, such as the lack of integration of cultural context in psychotherapy and difficulty finding culturally competent providers. I am fortunate and excited to have found my co-founder, Nisha, to embark on the journey to tackle this problem through Anise Health.