What happens when going to the therapist’s office or even visiting a sympathetic friend is no longer an option? The psychological toll of the pandemic has vastly expanded the need for digital mental health services, and sparked a surge of interest in businesses that provide them. Mental health startup funding reached a historic record of $852 million in the first quarter of 2021, nearly twice the amount raised during the same period in 2020, according to CB Insights.
Digital mental health is no longer solely restricted to talk therapy or medication management. A host of companies–both startups and more established businesses–now offer psychedelic therapy, executive coaching, support for children and adolescents, and specific treatment for conditions like insomnia, anxiety, and ADHD. Here are a few to keep an eye on.
Founded in 2013, coaching and mental health platform BetterUp provides online executive coaching, live group sessions, and other resources to improve professional leadership. BetterUp’s coaches don’t just tackle boardroom issues. Clients can work on their personal growth as well, including parenting and relationship challenges.
The company’s client roster includes both Fortune 500 companies and startups, such as Lyft, Hilton, Instacart, InBev, and Google. BetterUp drew a lot of attention earlier this year when Prince Harry came aboard as its Chief Impact Officer. And shortly before the appointment, it raised $125 million in its Series D funding round, valuing the business at $1.73 billion.
One of the company’s biggest challenges was convincing investors that executive coaching was meant for the masses. “When we first started BetterUp, executive coaching was seen as a very expensive and niche market intended for just a small fraction of executives,” Alexi Robichaux, BetterUp CEO and co-founder, tells Inc. “There was a huge untapped market for employees who were looking for this type of support to reach their potential.”
Independent executive coaches actually saw increased demand for their services during the pandemic, according to the Los Angeles Business Journal. Managers have had to meet new and unexpected challenges such as managing a remote workplace, balancing the mental health needs of employees, and maintaining productivity. As BetterUp continues to grow, the startup will have to keep up with the ever-evolving needs of its business customers.
Ariela Safira got a stark introduction to the world of mental health when a friend attempted suicide. As Safira told Medium, she launched Real, her mental health and therapy startup, because she saw that “radical change” was needed in the mental healthcare system. Since launching in 2020, the company has debuted a new online therapy service and raised $10 million in a Series A funding round led by Lightspeed Venture Partners. Investors include actress and entrepreneur Gwyneth Paltrow, soccer star Megan Rapinoe, and NFL all-pro Eric Kendricks, as well as the VC firms Forerunner Ventures, Female Founders Fund, BBG Ventures, G9 Ventures, and SoGal.
Real offers on-demand online individual and group therapy, with monthly payment plans that start at $28 a month. Weekly events cover topics like attachment styles in relationships and how your body reacts to trauma. Therapist-led roundtables unite members with similar experiences or backgrounds, including LGBT members and new parents. The company says its variety of group and individual sessions and reasonable price point will set it apart from competitors, which include online therapy apps like Talkspace, as well as meditation and mental health apps like Calm and Headspace.
Many companies offer mental health benefits for workers in the form of EAPs, or employee assistance programs, that include a mix of counseling, assessments, psychiatric referrals, and other tools. Spring Health markets itself as a program that can either replace or supplement traditional EAPs, giving smaller companies a platform to offer customized mental health plans. Employees take confidential assessments online, and then are given a list of treatment options. They also have access to licensed mental healthcare professionals within Spring Health’s network.
First launched in 2016, the New York City-based company has raised over $200 million in venture capital funding to date and has just reached 200 employees. One challenge the startup faces is changing the perception that quick, immediate care is always the best option, says Spring Healthcare CEO April Koh. “Getting someone the wrong care faster only leads to deeper pain and higher costs,” she says. The company’s work is part of a larger movement, she adds: The founders hope that Spring Health’s data-driven approach to mental health will remove some of the stigma associated with therapy.
The combination of virtual school, isolation from peers, and the stresses of living in a time of uncertainty created a mental health crisis for young people during the pandemic. Brightline, a Palo Alto, California-based digital mental health platform for young children and teens, stands out among the crop of digital mental health solutions geared toward adults such as Talkspace and Better Help. Launched in October 2020, Brightline connects patients with therapists, coaches, and psychiatrists. It also provides on-demand chat and speech therapy.
Due to state licensing requirements for therapists, Brightline currently is available only in California and Massachusetts. The company plans to launch in Washington State later this summer, however, and to be available nationwide by the end of the year. The startup has secured $100 million in funding to date.
MindMed is a biotech that is working on psychedelic treatments and therapies to address ADHD, depression, PTSD, and other conditions. It’s part of a wave of new startups and VC funds, including the Peter Thiel-backed Atai, Mindbloom, Field Trip, and Compass Pathways, that are exploring the clinical use of substances such as LSD, psilocybin, MDMA, and other drugs to treat mental illness.
But despite the nascent industry’s growth, MindMed CEO Robert Barrow notes, the stigma associated with psychedelic drugs has been an obstacle for the company. Overcoming it has “required both presenting the existing scientific evidence describing the potential benefits of the compounds, and laying out our comprehensive scientific development plans intended to further test and demonstrate their efficacy and safety,” he says.
MindMed, founded in May 2019, has raised a total of $204 million in funding but is still pre-revenue. It went public back in April, becoming only the second psychedelics company to do so. “Our goal now is to use the money we have to progress our development programs and work toward regulatory approval for our drugs and medical devices,” Barrow says.