Virtual mental health is having a moment

The current pandemic is setting up a potential breakout moment for virtual mental health care. Can they keep up?

COVID-19 has brought unparalleled levels of stress, grief, and panic, affecting all of us on a global level. This is sparking a massive surge in business for companies offering virtual mental healthcare. More companies are entering the field every day. 

Virtual mental health is set up to have a breakout moment.

And many companies are at the forefront of the battle. More mental health-centric startups are entering the field every day. 

To help support individuals throughout this time of crisis, Headspace is offering meditations that anyone can listen to at any time. It’s implementing a feature called Weathering the storm that includes meditations, sleep and movement exercises, and more tools that can aid in coping.

There’s also Ginger. Ginger uses messaging and video to connect people with hundreds of behavioral health coaches, therapists, and psychiatrists. The company mostly sells services to large employers who pay for their employees to have access to Ginger. During February and March, Ginger saw a nearly 50% increase in the number of workers actively using the platform compared to the previous six months.

A psychiatrist who leads mental health efforts for the insurer Kaiser Permanente says 90+% of mental health visits at Kaiser now take place virtually. Earlier this month, Kaiser Permanente started offering its members access to a smartphone-powered behavioral health program from Livongo, a company best known for offering diabetes coaching. It has already been downloaded by thousands of Kaiser Permanente members just in the past week.

Wellness company Hims has introduced a feature called “Anonymous Support Group.” Through its Hims and Hers brands, it will be using group therapy as part of an initial push into mental health services.

As the industry skyrockets, some obstacles are appearing as well. 

Companies have started bringing on more staff, pivoting to offer new or updated services, and implementing accelerated timelines. 

“There’s been a huge potential for this move for a long time, but … regulatory and reimbursement barriers have prevented it from happening,” said Chuck Ingoglia, president and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health.

The crisis could be a “tipping point for the way we practice,” said Peter Yellowlees, a professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of California, Davis and former president of the American Telemedicine Association.

Execution will be critical. If these companies can prove themselves at such an important moment, they might help show that telemedicine really is here to stay.

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