GovTech in Focus: Mental Health Tech

Mark Lazar

15 March 2019

With more and more discussion surrounding mental health, we’re diving deeper into the tech looking to transform how we care for our mental health.

Mental health is an issue that is getting increasing attention from all quarters. Whether it is celebrities, or startup founders, or companies, or funds promoting positive mental health culture, discussion and recognition of the importance of positive mental health has become commonplace – in a way that would have been unthinkable years ago. Indeed, only 5% of UK adults believe that mental health issues are inherently less serious than physical issues.

This trend is likely to continue, and the stigma is likely to be reduced for the very simple reason that speaking about mental health issues empowers others to do so. Whether this comes from role models, or peers – hearing about similar experiences makes it easier to talk about your own. Given that ⅔ of people know someone with mental health issues, opening up has an inbuilt virality. This is fantastic – and long may it continue.

That being said, the problem is vast. Suicides are a largest killer of men up to 49. The number of people being detained under the mental health, the number of people with serious mental health issues, and number of antidepressant drug prescriptions are all going up. The list goes on.

The public sector is certainly realising the scale of the problem. This is reflected in broad support across the political spectrum about mental health policies, increasing budget for the NHS and the provision to have dedicated mental health facilities and staff in hospitals and schools.

However, we are still hearing horror stories of long waiting times, and insufficient support. Current public provisions are not sufficient to deal with the rising need. I firmly believe that tech can make a difference here – there are plenty of opportunities and I would love to support a startup who has public sector ambitions in the Mental Health tech space through PUBLIC’s accelerator, GovStart.

To develop my understanding, I researched the market, and have segmented it in a few different ways. It is worth noting that there is also clear overlap between all these segments – e.g. often if you ‘discover’ a therapist, you can access them online – but I believe the distinction is useful.

Delivery of Mental Health Services: (e.g OxfordVR, Spill, Resilio). This encompasses various types of therapy online, such as CBT. These companies often look to tailor sessions to the user, or use new technologies (e.g. VR). It’s worth noting that the NHS already provides online CBT for free – such as Ieso and others.

Delivery of Processes that improve mental health: (e.g. Calm, QuitGenius, psycapps). Many would call this ‘wellness’ – which a far more established market. Companies in this segment focus on meditation, quitting smoking, building positive habits, journaling, developing emotional awareness, goal tracking and beyond, which are practices that are all likely to improve mental health, without being medical themselves. I chose to the line here when ‘wellness’ extended into the physical (exercise, nutrition etc), but this segment could easily apply very broadly, into areas such as financial inclusion or employment.

Discovery: (e.g. Big White Wall, IsosHealth, Elemental). This can be discovery of therapists, community support (social prescribing and others) and communities of people who have suffered with mental health issues.

Discussion: (e.g. Sanctus, Tomo, Cypher). There is a grey area here between discovery, and delivery. However, there are companies that focus particularly on the discussion, Sanctus provides coaching to companies, while there are a suite of companies (Tomo is one) that facilitate discussion via chatbots, while Cypher is a anonymous social network.

With more and more discussion surrounding mental health, it’s good to see many innovative companies in this space. If you want to find out more about opportunities in the public sector, or discuss this sector with me (or tell me what I’ve missed) please get in touch: mark@public.io.

Applications for our GovTech accelerator programme GovStart are now open – want to find out more? Get in touch.

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