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- Mental health startups have seen a boom in usage since the coronavirus lockdowns in Europe took effect.
- The sector had long been subject to stigma around mental health, therapy, and counselling in the UK and Europe, compared with the US.
- However, data from Octopus Ventures indicates that global venture capital investment in mental health technology increased almost five-fold between 2014 and 2019.
- “Whilst Covid-19 has helped to sharpen focus on the need for mental wellness — with so much uncertainty in the world — even before the pandemic, we’re keen to invest in a sector that helps more people to focus on self-care, improving their mental health,” said Eileen Burbidge, partner at London-based VC fund Passion Capital.
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Mental health startups have seen a boom in usage since the coronavirus lockdowns in Europe took effect.
The sector had long been subject to stigma around mental health, therapy, and counselling in the UK and Europe, compared with the U.S. Mental health, costs are estimated at $650 million in Europe according to the OECD in 2018 while in England alone, the Department of Health estimates that the cost of mental illness to employers is £105 billion ($136 billion). And that’s not including the human cost of mental illness.
However, data from Octopus Ventures indicates that global venture capital investment in mental health technology increased almost five-fold between 2014 and 2019. VC funding went from £120 million in 2014 to £580 million in 2019 but there is still a long way to go.
“It’s crucial that we open up a discourse around ‘taboo’ areas of health, and the venture capital industry has a role to play initiating this,” Kamran Adle, early stage investor in the Future of Health team at Octopus Ventures, told Business Insider. “Mental health is a complex and nuanced field and no two individuals will have the same experience, meaning the issue cannot be addressed with a one-size-fits-all approach. To meet this demand, we believe investors will need to support a variety of companies and solutions as this is not a winner-takes-all market.
In total, £2.04 billion was invested in mental health technology over those six years, representing 15% of total investment in digital health companies. Unsurprisingly, coronavirus has brought many ongoing mental health issues into stark relief with many traditional forms of support seemingly unavailable to most.
“Whilst Covid-19 has helped to sharpen focus on the need for mental wellness — with so much uncertainty in the world — even before the pandemic, we’re keen to invest in a sector that helps more people to focus on self-care, improving their mental health,” said Eileen Burbidge, partner at London-based VC fund Passion Capital, in an interview.
Startups are booming
Much in the same way health tech startups in other fields have pivoted to support key and essential workers, mental health companies have seen spikes in usage during the pandemic.
London-based Spill, a message-based therapy app designed to help improve workplace well-being, had the same amount of inbound enquiries in the past two months as the previous two years, the company told Business Insider. Month-on-month usage of its video therapy service is up four-fold since lockdown began in the UK.
Similarly, another London-based startup Juno, which provides wellbeing services for employers, has seen weekly usage increase from 65% to 80% during lockdown, with users moving away from “traditional” wellbeing services like mindfulness, to things like help with sorting groceries, the company’s CEO, Ally Fekaiki told Business Insider in an interview.
Mental health provision in the workplace has equally become a key issue with many staff forced to work remotely, if at all, during the current crisis. UK tech startup Unmind is hopeful it can help treat some 10 million people going forward and praised the message of “kindness” being utilized during this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week. The startup began offering its services to NHS workers for free during the pandemic and has had more than 30,000 essential workers sign up since March.
“We cannot underestimate the long-term impact of this pandemic on our mental health, but should also remain optimistic about what this means for the topic,” Nick Taylor, CEO and cofounder of London-based mental health startup Unmind, told Business Insider.
Investors are in agreement that more can be done to back mental health startups. Even before Covid-19, the sector had seen greater maturity and a general shift in values from both users and employers that mental health concerns had greater validity.
“Covid has raised the importance of mental health overall, but also changed the way people are willing to communicate, and I believe those attitudes toward communication will remain post-Covid,” Carlos Eduardo Espinal, Partner at early stage fund Seedcamp, told Business Insider in an interview.
The inability to visit a therapist or enjoy other treatments, distractions, and medical benefits, has led people to consider virtual offerings more than ever. The expansion of telemedicine and greater trust in chat services offer a glimmer of hope that tech can change the way humans seek help for mental health issues.