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Mental Wellness – September is Suicide Prevention Month


Suicide had never touched my life so deeply as when I found out my friend and mentor “Papa Bear” had died. It wasn’t until his funeral that I learned it was suicide, and that he had quietly suffered for decades with mania, depression and wondering why he couldn’t manage without medication that made him feel horrible.

But mental wellness has never been far from me with family dealing with depression and anxiety throughout my life.

At a mental wellness symposium a few years back, I met a woman with a semicolon tattoo on her wrist. Sharing her struggle with suicide and finding her path to mental wellness included sleep, exercise, meditation and mindfulness and nutrition. The sponsor of the symposium was a supplement company that she had found relief from ideation that had kept her in a dark place for a long time.

The pandemic created a surge of interest in mental wellness services, which is creating new opportunities for businesses.

Statista reported to the World Economic Forum that from January-June 2019 before the pandemic, to December, 2020, adults reporting an uptick in symptoms of anxiety jumped from 8% of US adults to 36.9%. Depression symptoms jumped from 6.6% to 30.2% and those experiencing a combination of the two jumped from 11% to 42.4%.

That jump demonstrates a serious problem to be solved and a potential market demand for effective solutions. Startups are capitalizing on research from the human genome research data, the microbiome project (and if you missed it, you can read up a bit on the science and startups in that specialty here), and other interventions that could provide a return to health as well as a successful investment.

Mental health startup funding reached $852 million – a jump of 54% in Q1 2021. [source: HealthCare Dive] Some of the companies have focused on digital health disruption, no longer restricted to just talk therapy or medication management. Exploration in psychedelic therapies, coaching, and specific treatment for insomnia, anxiety, attention deficit and children’s issues such as Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

Here are 5 startups determined to make a difference in mental wellness.

MindMed (NASDAQ: MNMD)

MindMed’s mission is to help patients overcome rather than just survive, to move beyond life-long symptom management. Their targeted audience deals with opioid addiction, anxiety, or adult ADHD. Rather than just another pill to manage symptoms, they focus on a set of tools, which includes breakthrough medicines, technology and compassionate therapy to cover the complex patient journey to mental wellness.

Learning about MindMed’s clinical trials was a bit like reading the book, Stealing Fire, by Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal, who wrote about ways Silicon Valley companies, Navy SEALs, and maverick scientists are finding a new competitive edge. One of those ways the book mentions includes the use of psychedelics to unleash creativity and collaboration in teams. The MindMed Develop Commercial Drug Development Programs include “Project Lucy” or LSD Experiential Therapy, “18-MC” for Substance Use Disorders, and “LSD Microdosing” to address Adult ADHD. The MindMed Discover program collaborates its research and development with University Hospital Basel, with clinical trials on the above 3 programs, plus LSD assisted therapy, treatment of cluster headaches, and multiple studies on LSD, MDMA, DMT and Psilocybin.

Co-founder and co-CEO, J.R. Rahn says that “if the pill wasn’t called LSD or psilocybin, and someone told you it had a pretty good chance of helping people with depression, addiction, or anxiety, do you care what the pill is called? Does it even matter?”

MindMed entered public trading only a few months ago on April 27, 2021, after raising $175.8 Million over 8 rounds of funding. MindMed investors include Peter Thiel, Michael, Novogratz, Steven Cohen, Bob Parsons, Kevin O’Leary and Blake Mycoskie. [source: Mindmed and Crunchbase]

BetterUp

Learning and Development (L&D) works under the umbrella of Human Resources. I’ve seen companies’ invest hundreds to thousands of dollars per employee in L&D resources for compliance training, sales training, emotional intelligence, leadership and other soft skills, all in an effort to facilitate better collaboration communication and opportunities for employees to grow and develop with the company. Some companies even offer tuition reimbursement for accredited degree advancement programs. This is actually something that attracts better employees with Monster reporting top companies for personal development, including Seattle Genetics, SAS, Amazon, Bonobos, AT&T, Randstad, Paychex, CyberCoders, Schneider Electric and Marriott International. These companies have anywhere from 350 to 280,000 employees.

BetterUp launched in 2013 as a coaching company using AI technology and behavioral science experts. They claim scalability, but with only 51-200 employees (according to Glassdoor), even if most of those employees were coaches, it’s hard to imagine a truly effective executive coaching company serving the needs of an AT&T or Amazon though their website boasts clients such as NASA and FAA.

BetterUp has created “IndentifyAI” to find the right people within an organization to receive coaching and to recommend a personalized path for growth. This proprietary feature assesses the L&D needs of the entire organization’s employees and sorts them by where they are in their career, how they prefer to learn and their coachability. This way the employee is matched to coaching content, specialists and types of coaching resources to help each person.

And recently they announced that Prince Harry had joined the BetterUp team as its chief impact officer. [source: BetterUp]

So far, BetterUp has raised $269.8 Million with it’s most recent round announced in February 2021 (Series D) which raised $125 million of that total. [source: Crunchbase]

Brightline

One in 5 children have a diagnosed behavioral health need and 80% of those children will not get the care they need. 50% of working parents are losing significant productivity in caring for their children’s behavioral health. “If the kids aren’t alright, neither are your employees.”  [source: hello brightline]

Brightline, formerly known as Emilio Health, is a med-tech company providing behavioral healthcare services for children and their families. They focus on issues around school pressure, individualized education plans (IEPs), anxiety, cyberbullying, and behavioral and self-esteem issues. Brightline networks with employers as well as direct to consumer programs.

They use technology, coaching and access to licensed therapists and psychiatrists. Normally, parents are going from a school counselor to a therapist, to a coach, to a psychiatrist and each provider is not connecting to the other providers.

Brightline starts with a nationally available Connect+ coaching app with resources like videos, interactive exercises, tips and guides, as well as being able to chat with an app. Coaching comes in 30-minute sessions. Parents can also receive coaching, especially parents with younger children, ages 3-5. They even have speech therapists available in some states for children as young as 18 months.

Brightline has raised $104 Million over 4 rounds, most recently, Series B round announced in June 2021 which raised $72 million of that total. [source: Crunchbase]

Spring Health

Spring Health emerged out of a desire to remove the guesswork in mental healthcare. CEO and co-founder, April Koh says,

 Hopelessness is an all too common part of the mental health journey. I’ve watched loved ones try one thing after another — some provider, some medication, some program. Every time something doesn’t work, it’s hard to muster up the courage and the hope to start all over again.

In five to ten years, mental healthcare is going to look radically different: instead of being a guessing game of trial-and-error, mental healthcare will be precisely and accurately tailored to each individual through data. I started Spring Health because I wanted to build that future — where the hopelessness of guessing is replaced with the hope of data-driven, accurate care. [source: Spring Health]

 

Spring Health partners with employers to replace traditional employee assistance programs (EAP), offering assessments, care-navigation, coaching, therapy visits, medication and management, along with learning-and-development support addressing issues such as leadership and management, diversity and inclusion, resilience, custom programming, and most of all, destigmatizing mental health.

On September 16, 2021, Spring Health announced it had secured $190 million in Series C funding. Investors included Kinnevik, The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, Tiger Global, Northzone, RRE Ventures, Rethink Impact, Work-Bench and others. Total investment to date is $300 million, with a current valuation of $2 Billion, claiming 6x revenue growth over the past year. [source: Spring Health]

REAL

The traditional system of mental health is the equivalent of waiting until you have a health crisis like a stroke or heart attack before you visit a doctor. Historically, stigma and the very real possibility of losing employment, community standing and custody of children for seeking mental health help has spanned decades. Only in the last few years has there been any real effort to deal with the stigma and other social issues of mental illness.

REAL is seeking to revolutionize care, working outside the traditional system to provide tools before you reach crisis, and helping people cultivate a stronger relationship with themselves. REAL offers a subscription direct-to-consumer for $24/month. The membership includes guidance from therapists and community support.

Founder and CEO, Ariela Safira has been passionate about improving mental healthcare for years. Her foundation was in mathematics and computational science at Stanford, but then joined Columbia’s clinical psychology program to train as a therapist, leaving in 2019 to launch REAL. Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Nina Vasan heads up REAL’s team of expert therapists. She’s a psychiatrist and professor at Stanford; Stanford has a program called “Brainstorm – The Stanford Lab for Mental Health Innovation”, which Dr. Vasan heads up.  [source: Real]

Bottom Line

Papa Bear couldn’t find a treatment protocol that actually made him feel better. He gave so much to me, and to others he mentored, as well as to his children and grandchildren and the community he served. Having effective medications that didn’t numb him to love, empathy and compassion while effectively treating his condition could have saved his life.

September is Suicide Prevention Month. It is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10-34 in the US, and the 10th leading cause of death in the US. The most common mental illnesses in the US are anxiety disorders, affecting 40 million adults, or 18.1% of the population. [source: National Council for Mental Wellbeing]

Startups try to solve a big problem. As you can see by the numbers, mental health is a big problem, ready for big disruptors in how we approach it. The angel investment opportunity is not just about investing, but also about making an impact on how long people struggle and HOW they recover.