116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
For English speakers, getting mental health care can be difficult enough — breaking through the stigma of seeking help, navigating a patchwork of services and figuring out how to pay for them.
But for Spanish speakers in a country where fewer than 5 percent of mental health care providers speak a second language, there’s no comparison. For a segment that is fueling business and population growth particularly in rural towns across Iowa, the need for mental health care is critical, said Carlos Arguello, Cedar Rapids business owner and Sevelyn founder and CEO.
“When it comes to the growth of Iowa … that’s not coming from the general population. Latinos are the only game in town that’s keeping … a lot of our smaller towns vibrant,” said Arguello, a resident of Grimes. “For them to get access and continue to feel like they can call Iowa home, they need services like this.”
Since its conception in 2020, Sevelyn has connected about 150 customers, mostly in Iowa, to about 25 providers. After being part of the Iowa Startup Accelerator’s first entirely virtual graduating class of businesses, Techstars, a Colorado-based seed accelerator, announced its backing of Sevelyn in July. The Colorado-based seed accelerator accepts fewer than 1 percent of its 17,000 applicants.
Now, after serving Latinos across Iowa, Sevelyn is preparing to expand its reach to the rest of the country before moving into peer-to-peer support that could transcend languages. A national launch is being targeted for late summer or early fall this year as about 145 care providers wait to be added to the platform.
By connecting psychologists from countries like Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama to Iowans, Sevelyn’s founder hopes to counter language barriers, cultural disconnects and financial blocks. More than being bilingual, Sevelyn providers come with a cultural understanding of the nuanced dynamics in Latino cultures — from the structure of their nuclear families to what it means to be an immigrant — that builds a trust third-party interpreters can’t facilitate.
“This is not an issue where we can throw money at it,” Arguello said.
Over 30 years ago, the Nicaragua native, now 37, remembers seeing his mother struggle to adjust to a new life that reflected the harsh realities of mental health care access.
“The idea really came from my personal journey in terms of what I saw with my family and the lack of parity and uneven level of access to mental wellness,” he said.
Like many immigrants, he said his mother struggled with depression and anxiety as she adjusted to new surroundings in a place where nobody spoke her language or understood where she came from.
“I look at what’s going on now with COVID, where there’s so much more need for mental wellness, and nothing has really changed,” he said.
As COVID-related mental health needs continue to mount with no end to the pandemic in sight, the ripple effects of mental health needs with Latinos could grow to unsustainable levels without any mediation.
But more than providing access, the entrepreneur said Sevelyn is providing a new way of conveniently connecting with users at home that allows them to safeguard their privacy as they seek emotional support. The trifecta of convenience, affordability and relatability has produced growth in spades, with most current customers a result of word-of-mouth — Sevelyn has only spent about $500 in advertising.
In 2022, Arguello said Sevelyn also will work on expanding peer-to-peer services that will provide support for folks who can benefit better from talking to those going through similar experiences than one-on-one conversations with psychologists or therapists.
"Sevelyn is about bringing equity and parity to emotional wellness and mental health,“ he said. ”We see this as a starting point.“
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