Startups in the Democratisation of Care: Digital Mental Health Solutions

May 20, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed digital mental health startups in the spotlight. The demand for accessible mental health solutions has paved the way for startups to innovate and deliver access to mental health and psychosocial support services online. 

Just over a year ago, the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Looking back, this year has brought both unprecedented uncertainty and the need to adapt to a new ‘normal.’ Faced with high levels of illness and mortality, the spread of the virus challenged healthcare system capacities and placed large burdens on economies and societies worldwide. Many of us shifted our daily work to our home offices, students attended their lectures from behind a screen, families were separated due to traveling restrictions, and social distancing measures limited our ability to partake in our favourite activities.

To say the least, coping with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult. The psychosocial consequences of the pandemic have led to a new onset of mental health disorders and the deterioration of patients with a prior mental health diagnosis. Social distancing and other forms of public health recommendations have been crucial in curbing the spread of COVID-19, but they have also left many of us feeling lonely, anxious, and stressed. Dealing with mental health struggles can be extraordinarily isolating, but it should not be. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, it is important to recognise and bring attention to the impacts of COVID-19 on mental health and wellbeing. 

Lockdowns throughout the pandemic have prohibited equal access to in-person mental health and psychosocial support services in times of rising demand. That is where the promise of digital health services comes in. Key catalysts in the revolutionisation of digital mental health have been startups. Startups have hopped on board this unprecedented opportunity to offer speedy, innovative, and flexible solutions to people all around the world. The availability of these digital solutions on a mobile phone or laptop contributes to the democratisation of healthcare and a step closer to making universal access to care a reality. While startups are oftentimes smaller actors, it is also in their nature to respond to critical demands on a tight deadline, and mental health is no exception

According to a WHO survey on 130 countries, 70% have adopted telemedicine or teletherapy services for mental health throughout the pandemic. 2020 marked a record year for venture capital investment in digital mental health startups. Many of these tools range from clinician based virtual care sessions, meditation and sleep-support apps, to mental health platforms working to connect communities. The digital solutions continue to create a robust system of end-to-end mental health patient care focused on improving access and flexibility along the health continuum.

At Allied for Startups DTx, we aim to create policy environments where startups can thrive. Our membership of innovative digital health startups are consistently developing solutions to advance the digital transformation of health and care. We encourage EU policy-makers to consider startup perspectives and help reduce barriers in digital health innovation.  With digital mental health currently under the spotlight due to the pandemic, it is important to harness this momentum to drive increased use of digital tools in healthcare in the future.