The field of behavioral health covers many aspects of healthcare. It refers to mental health and psychiatric treatments, as well as different types of counselling. The different types of treatments and therapy are usually administered face to face by any of a wide range of qualified practitioners, from social workers to consultant psychiatrists and neurologists.
Lockdown has seen a spike in demand for these types of therapy and with movement massively restricted, digital alternatives have had to step in where traditional methods of delivery have been unavailable. With a reported 36% of US consumers reporting that COVID-19 has impacted their mental health, there has been a deluge of new patients in need of support.
In truth, the space has been growing at a rapid rate for some time; the current situation has merely accelerated, that growth and adoption of the technologies for many. The integration of tech with these types of therapies has been exciting physicians and entrepreneurs alike for a number of years.
In recent weeks, the FDA has made it easier for telepsychiatry tools to gain regulatory approval, on the back of the increased demand. Rarely has there been such a demand for one area of the med tech space to provide such a benefit for so many, resulting in a buoyant market which is bucking global economic trends.
You only need to look at the numbers to see just how much of a boom is going on. A whole host of companies in the market have received investment in 2020 already. HeadSpace received Series C funding to the tune of $53M, Cera Care and Lyra Health received $70M and $75M respectively and online mental health solution provider SilverCloud Health received $16M in Series B, taking its total funding raised to over $30M.
Amidst the pandemic, many of these companies have been stepping up to do all they can to alleviate what could become a global mental health crisis.
New York-based Happify, a digital provider of gamified positive psychology, CBT and mindfulness programmes launched Happify Connect this in April, a screening and referral hub giving employees easy access to mental health support from home. They’ve moved extremely quickly to connect isolated employees experiencing difficulties with mental health support at the right time.
BigHealth are another company doing their bit. They have a varied, digitally therapeutic offering that they’re offering to companies and all NHS staff in the UK at zero cost during the COVID-19 crisis. Founded from CEO Peter Hames’ desire to find a non-pharmaceutical aid to help sleep, they’re putting proactivity before profit in the fight against COVID-19.
Talkspace allows users to connect with a licensed therapist from the palm of their hand, and they’ve released a new digital Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) so businesses can connect staff with support on a range of topics including mental health, financial health and even legal advice. They’re also stepping up during COVID, offering thousands of free subscriptions to health care workers and first responders and discounted subscriptions for everyone else. They’re also putting out some great guides and content to help with coronavirus/lockdown induced stress and anxiety.
Just over a year ago, AbleTo acquired Joyable, immediately combining a leading virtual behavioral health care provider with an app-based digital therapy innovator. They’ve recently leveraged their combined expertise to launch a new tool which offers clinical support to people in real time. The tech also offers short, gamified activities designed to ease anxiety.
Lockdown has undoubtedly increased the presence of companies operating in this space, forcing the hand of some who may have been sceptical about a digital offering in the area. Those suspicions are quickly being put to bed though, because in addition to the easy accessibility, these solutions really work.
SilverCloud, whose funding I referenced earlier, has shown that 12 months of their treatment has caused a 50% reduction in symptoms of depression in patients. With statistics like these, the digital behavioral health space is generating a lot of new fans.
These technologies are here to stay, the question now is how will the landscape of the market look in 1,2, or 5 years. As mental health services were stretched to breaking point in many countries even pre-COVID with huge waiting lists, these tech platforms could provide a solution
Whilst these platforms cannot completely replace the value of an in-person consultation, they could be a scalable comfort for some, a life saver for others and a life line for many experiencing times of crisis.
As the digital behavioral health space demonstrates how much value it can add, cementing its value as a tool for many healthcare services and businesses around the world, it’s just the beginning for this fledgling medical market.
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I spoke with CEO and serial entrepreneur Janne Huhtala who has a track record of working with start-ups in neuromodulation. This technology has the potential to change millions of people's lives.