November 9, 2023
In my first post, I wrote about the interest surge in mental health tech, and how, in my opinion, that’s not to be taken as the peak — outlining some of the challenges the current models face. And it’s rather the beginning of some very exciting years for the industry: fuelled by increasing awareness around the topic, some drastic technological advancements, and a lot of interesting data from the first generation of companies.
So here are some thoughts of what we’re excited to see:
1. Addressing more acute pathologies.
We can look at mental health as “a continuum ranging from mental wellness to acute illness”¹. In Mental health tech is emerging — Part 1, I argued that most of the solutions are addressing the “low-hanging fruits” of mental health, but there is a portion of the population in need who remains underserved. There is an opportunity to move past the beginning of the spectrum by directing solutions at more severe pathologies. For example, Thymia is helping clinicians objectively assess and monitor acute cognitive disorders — such as depression, suicidality or Alzheimer’s disease, via video and speech analysis.
Building a full-stack virtual or hybrid clinic might be also particularly relevant for eating or psychotic disorders — where the prevalence is lower but the potential harm is very high. Eating disorders are the second deadliest mental disorder², and people with schizophrenia are 2–3 times more likely to die early than the general population³. Thus, owning the entire patient lifecycle, and guiding individuals along the way, might prove to add much value to their treatment adherence and quality of life.
2. Care across all age groups.
Mental health can affect individuals very differently across their lifespan. Yet, most of the solutions out there are fighting for the same target group (18–35). There is a care gap in early adolescence and older age. Kids struggle with mental health — the most common disorders include anxiety, ADHD, depression and PTSD, but they don’t get treatment. And the Pandemic is unveiling additional challenges. ER visits related to mental health for kids (5–17 y.o) increased by almost 30% between April and October 2020. There is an opportunity for startups to engage with kids and their families early on and to navigate age related complications, like bullying or social anxiety. There are a few startups in the US attempting to solve the issue, like Brightline and Little Otter, and we’re excited for what Clay has in store.
The world population is living longer, but we are not doing much to help cope with the mental challenges of aging. Meanwhile, the number of seniors with mental health disorders is expected to double by 2030⁴. Living alone, suffering from health-related conditions, losing loved ones are common among the elderly, and we’re excited to see a growing share of startups becoming “old-age friendly”. Examples include Papa, The Joy Club and Vermut.
3. Traditional therapy isn’t for everyone.
Telehealth and self-help startups are helping many, but they are not the only treatment pathway. We know non-verbal therapy, with the use of music, nature and arts, can be extremely useful for people with neurodisabilities. And at C/S we believe we will be seeing increasing evidence to deploy these alternative care models to other population groups and medical indications.
Another interesting opportunity is in group therapy. The famous AA care model can help build validation, give users back trust and provide peer reinforcement. Groups in the US is deploying the model for opioid addiction. The approach might come at a lower cost than 1:1s and could also help in other specific settings, like trauma and sleep difficulties (have a look at what Leda and Sleepyhead are doing).
4. Proactive approaches.
We are mostly dealing with mental health in a reactive way. Meaning, we wait to struggle, and then we (may) look for help — there is a big awareness and knowledge gap. Using digital solutions to educate people at scale can help destigmatize the subject and could be beneficial in primary prevention. In addition to an educational layer, other examples of proactive solutions might be self-screening models, thus equipping individuals to identify their areas of need as they manifest themselves. P.S. I’m still on the lookout for startups that fit this thesis!
 Laursen TM, Nordentoft M, Mortensen PB. Excess early mortality in schizophrenia. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 2014;10, 425–438.
Former Investment Associate