Until recently, mental health was a relative blip on the radar of venture capitalists. But over the past few years, and particularly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, private investors have made a dramatic run for this space, pouring $3.1 billion into mental health ventures by the third quarter of 2021 alone, according to Rock Health, a seed fund that supports startups working in digital health. That represents a third of all digital health funding for 2021, more than 7 times the amount of funding placed in such ventures in 2015.
The reasons for this boom are clear. The pandemic unleashed enormous new mental health needs, with anxiety and depression rates among U.S. adults skyrocketing from 11% in 2019 to 42% in December 2020, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID also brought more people to telehealth and other tech options for treatment, and celebrities’ public admissions of their own struggles helped destigmatize mental health in the public eye … The new interventions target a wide range of conditions, including anxiety, depression, insomnia, trauma, and substance use, and a number aim to reduce stress and improve well-being through mindfulness, meditation, and weight loss apps…
Is the rise in funding a fad that will disappear once the pandemic is better controlled or when people tire of using these products? Given the current lack of regulation, how can people choose interventions that are effective? And what about uptake? In one study of 93 of the most frequently installed unguided mental health apps—apps whose implementation relies solely on the user’s motivation—just 3.9% of initial users continued using them after 14 days (Journal of Medical Internet Research, Vol. 21, No. 9, 2019)…
APA is keeping abreast of these developments and creating programs and products to help practitioners, technologists, and consumers understand and navigate this rapidly evolving space. The association is also working with stakeholders to address the fact that, at present, FDA-approved products—even those with a psychology basis—need to be prescribed but that most psychologists lack this authority.
To help fix this problem, APA and others “are working to develop a more innovative regulatory model that fits these softwares better and doesn’t use the word ‘prescription,’” said Vaile Wright, PhD, APA’s senior director of health care innovation. To aid in this effort, in September 2021, the FDA designated APA an “expert partner organization,” which will allow the association to provide expertise on behavioral change technology and methodology.
News in Context:
- Pear Therapeutics raises $175M and goes public via SPAC deal raising the profile of prescription digital therapeutics
- Headspace and Ginger merge to expand and scale up digital mental health
- The National Academy of Medicine (NAM) shares discussion paper to help empower 8 billion minds via the ethical adoption of digital mental health and neurotech
- 10 neurotechnologies about to transform brain enhancement and brain health
- Five reasons the future of brain enhancement is digital, pervasive and (hopefully) bright
- We need to rethink neuroscience. And you can help us