With their innovative startup ideas, entrepreneurs are eradicating the stigma associated with mental illness.
As the pandemic hit the world in 2019, it has caused a significant impact on people’s lifestyles, and we are constantly overwhelmed with worry and fear. This led to depression and anxiety for many as people began working from home and were lacking physical contact with others, like coworkers, friends and family members. Further, continuous lockdowns imposed in cities and countries across the world have made mental health services unavailable when needed the most. And it’s not just us stating this; the data speaks for itself.
As per a research report released by the World Health Organization (WHO), the global occurrence of anxiety and depression soared by a staggering 25% during the first year of COVID-19. While there are many factors accounting for the circumstances, one thing shines out: many individuals are not getting the mental healthcare they need.
Thankfully, the world is waking up to this issue. A number of mental healthcare startups have stepped up to assist individuals in seeking solace during these trying times. These startups are catering to the needs of different groups of clients through the use of technology, such as telemedicine, wearables, artificial intelligence and machine learning.
The growing demand for mental healthcare services has also expanded the market substantially, and we are seeing more venture investment into the industry in recent years. In 2020 alone, US$1.5 billion was invested into mental healthcare startups. In the first quarter of 2021, the investment surpassed US$795 million. With more funding and new players into the lucrative sector, let’s take a look at five mental health initiatives that you need to keep an eye on in 2022!
1. Meru Health
Meru Health, founded in 2016 by Albert Nazander, Kristian Ranta and Riku Lindholm, is a silver lining in the worldwide crisis. The company is an online mental healthcare platform that offers digital solutions to users. One of its major programs is the app-based 12-week treatment program for depression, burnout and anxiety. Besides digital therapist and psychiatrist assistance and anonymous peer support groups, the program comes with a heart rate variability biofeedback device to track your body’s stress status. Meru Health also offers a personalized health coaching program for stress or mild depression and anxiety. This program includes virtual workshops, chat-based coach and peer support to boost users’ resilience and emotional intelligence.
As COVID forced people to seek mental health care online, Meru Health grew its customer base by ten times and saw about 700% revenue growth in 2020. Further, in 2021, the startup secured US$38 million in a Series B round, bringing its total fund raised to US$51.3 million. The funds will be allocated to facilitate its nationwide expansion, partnerships and the coaching program.
The pandemic has increased demand for independent executive coaches, as managers have demonstrated great difficulty meeting new and unexpected challenges. This is where BetterUp steps in. Founded in 2013, BetterUp is a global leader in online executive coaching, counseling and mentorship. With a network of over 3,000 coaches, the company offers 1:1 and group coaching in 46 languages to help professionals improve leadership skills and mental fitness. BetterUp’s coaches don’t just tackle boardroom issues; clients are free to work on their personal growth as well—including diversity and inclusion, sleep, parenting and relationship challenges. The Silicon Valley startup has worked with Fortune 500 companies, such as Lyft and Hilton, as well as startups such as Instacart and InBev.
BetterUp had drawn a lot of attention in 2021, when Prince Harry came aboard as an advisor to the firm. Shortly before his appointment, the company raised US$125 million in its Series D funding round. Later in 2021, the company announced the close of its US$300 million Series E round. This round brought the company’s valuation to US$4.7 billion and total funding to US$600 million, making BetterUp the largest mental health and coaching company in the world.
Founded in 2019, Real is looking to promote and expand the use of group therapy. This mental health methodology has been common in treating addictions (e.g. Alcoholics Anonymous) and substance abuse. It is also much more affordable than one-on-one therapy. Recognizing this, Real aims to broaden the application of group therapy to mental health challenges across different topics, such as career, sexuality, anxiety and conflicts with friends and family. The startup offers group and individual mental health services led by full-time psychologists to people around the world through digital platforms. They are integrated with progress tracking, meaningful mental health programming and on-demand therapy to help you meet your wellness goals.
In April 2021, the startup secured US$10 million in a Series A round. The company itself also highly emphasizes on the mental wellbeing of its employees. Hoping to avoid employee burnout, it will be implementing a pilot program from April to June this year to introduce a remote-first work arrangement and a four-day workweek.
4. Wysa by Touchkin eServices
Wysa is an AI-powered mental health app where, rather than conversing with some other person, you are interacting anonymously with an “AI penguin” that listens to you and helps you take some stress off. The app takes the help of AI-based emotionally intelligent bots that use evidence-based cognitive-behavioral techniques and dialectical behavior therapy to improve mental resilience. The chatbot responds to users with 150 different therapeutic techniques, such as affirmation words or guided meditations.
The Founder and CEO of Wysa, Jo Aggarwal, found herself falling into a deep depression after her first startup failed miserably, and it is from this state of stress that the idea for Wysa was born. Aggarwal founded the company in 2016 with Ramakant Vempati, who shared her vision to spread positivity through services, like live video chats with licensed therapists.
In March 2021, Wysa was selected as one of the 17 apps in the Google Assistant Investment Program. Later that year, in May, the startup closed US$5.5 million in a Series A funding round led by Boston-based W Health Ventures, the Google Assistant Investment Program, pi Ventures and Kae Capital. As per Aggarwal, Wysa is not aiming to diagnose mental health conditions but as a space for people to “just vent” and improve their sleep, anxiety and relationships.
5. Feel Relief Program by Sentio Solution
The Feel Relief Program launched by wearable technology company Sentio Solution to meet the growing mental health support demand. The program combines cognitive behavioral therapy with its proprietary Feel Emotion Sensor to monitor the wearer’s emotional state—like a Fitbit for your mental health. The sensor is a wristband that sends different stimuli to the wearer and identifies changes in their physiological response. By doing that, the sensor learns to recognize what causes fluctuations in your emotions. Upon detecting the changes, the sensor sends the data to the Feel app, which will suggest intervention exercises, like mood journaling and breathing, to the user.
You can also connect with a licensed Feel therapist every week, who will help you create an action plan over a 15-minute online session together! As per Sentio Solutions, usage of the Feel app has increased during the pandemic, with users spending 50% more time on it per week and 97% of users participating in weekly therapy sessions.
The need for mental healthcare is growing, and thankfully there are startups who are taking on the challenge with innovation and technology. Hopefully, as the mental healthcare industry expands, there will be something for everyone who is in need.
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