The unprecedented COVID-19 health crisis is overwhelming health care systems around the world. During times like these, it is particularly important to take advantage of all means available to implement solutions that help curb the loss of lives and empower the health workers to carry out their work. Concerns related to mental health are also on the rise. Fear, stress, anxiety, uncertainty, financial problems, lack of social interactions are some of the issues that are affecting people’s mental and psychological well-being. In addition, access to mental healthcare is scarce given the lockdown.
Digital health startups are rapidly innovating in the area of mental health and addressing some concerns that have arisen from such an extraordinary situation. From providing online platforms for remote consultations to using AI technologies to assist in the treatments – startups are helping individuals, health workers, and researchers.
Here are five examples of digital health startups tackling mental health issues
Mindler is a Swedish startup and the country’s largest digital service for mental health. Mindler’s platform makes it easy for people in Sweden and the Netherlands to see a psychologist via smartphone – usually within 24 hours. The team of over 200 psychologists have been experiencing a 30% surge in demand for their services during the pandemic. Mindler has recently raised 8 million euros in Series A funding to introduce its services in other European countries.
Psious is a startup from Spain which has developed a virtual reality platform for psychology and mental health. The platform allows therapists to treat their patients remotely, offering more than 70 customisable therapeutic environments and dozens of specialised functionalities. It enables the therapist to control what the patient sees at all times, while the biofeedback sensor monitors anxiety indicators. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, Psious is offering 1000 free teletherapy sessions with VR technology.
Unmind, a UK-based startup, is a developer of a workplace mental health platform that enables organisations and employees to improve their mental well-being. The platform’s content is based on cognitive behaviour therapy, neuroscience and mindfulness. The corresponding app also addresses additional themes related to the pandemic, such as health anxiety and dealing with isolation.
To address the current health crisis, Unmind’s founders are providing free access to the platform to the country’s health workers. Dr Nick Taylor, CEO and Co-Founder of Unmind, said: “The burden of the crisis in the UK is being felt most of all by our National Health Service, which is why we have made the Unmind platform free to use for all NHS staff for the duration of the pandemic. It’s crucial that frontline staff have the necessary equipment to treat COVID-19 patients, but it is just as important to make sure they have the mental health support they need to work through a highly stressful time.”
SilverCloud Health is an Irish startup with offices in Dublin, London and Boston. The team at SilverCloud runs a digital health platform, offering more than 30 programmes across the spectrum of mental health. Their services are used globally by more than 300 organisations, including over 70% of the NHS mental health services. SilverCloud Health recently raised 14.7 million euros in Series B funding. In response to the pandemic, the startup is providing its clients with expanded access to its platform and is developing an additional module of programmes around COVID-19.
Mentemia, based in New Zealand, developed an app – virtual mental health coach – which was originally designed to use artificial intelligence to help reduce stress and anxiety in the workplace. The app tailors its content to individual mental health needs, offering advice, training exercises and tools to reduce stress while learning from users’ responses and preferences. In response to COVID-19, the team at Mentemia has made the app available to all New Zealanders, free of charge. Furthermore, the startup collaborated with the Ministry of Health to support the country’s health workers.
These are some of the many examples demonstrating that startups’ innovative solutions support health care systems and individuals around the world in the times of crisis. As the digitalisation of healthcare accelerates throughout the pandemic and the recovery that will follow, we encourage the policy-makers to take into account the concerns of startups and their particular situation. Startups are highly flexible and demonstrate a high speed of innovation, however, they are smaller economic actors with limited resources.
Some of the upcoming EU legislation that affects digital health startups includes AI legislation – where the distinction between high-risk and low-risk applications is relevant. In the current White Paper, many of the digital health startups could be classified as ‘high-risk’ and therefore would have to comply with resource-intensive ex-ante conformity checks. Nevertheless, legislation on AI also has the potential to create a harmonised framework where these startups can thrive and scale in. You can find our position on the AI White Paper here.
At Allied for Startups, our mission is to create policy environments for startups to thrive. We believe that when European policy-makers listen to startups great things happen!
COVID-19 & digital health startups: an overview (case studies)