Fifty-percent of all mental illnesses begin by age 14, and 75% begin by age 24. Intervening earlier in the progression of a mental illness can reduce the long-term impact it has on an individual. This, coupled with the increase in anxiety and depression in adolescents and teens, has created a big opportunity for companies developing solutions that provide better access to mental health and emotional resources to young people.
Since launching Telosity in Spring 2019, we have seen dramatic growth and evolution in the youth mental wellbeing market. While this interest was growing prior to COVID-19, the pandemic has greatly accelerated it. In our own analysis, we found the amount of dollars invested into youth-oriented companies between October 2019 and 2020 tripled compared to the same time in the previous year. We have also seen dozens of startups emerge that are working within Telosity’s focus areas of increasing prevention, access, and positive online experiences (more about these areas in a previous blog post).
To provide some insight into the types of solutions being developed, we created a landscape of the companies in the Telosity pipeline. Through this process, we have identified eight categories. Below the graphic are details of the problem being solved within each category, the types of solutions being developed, and additional Insights.
- Problem(s) this category is generally trying to address: The adolescent years can be rocky, and teens today are more stressed than ever. They are looking for self-directed wellness solutions that can help them manage their stress and create better mental wellbeing.
- Definition of this category: Tools that cultivate general mental wellness habits, like mindfulness.
- Additional Insights:
- Many companies in the self-care category are focused on breathing exercises, mindfulness, and meditation. Beyond this, companies tend to focus on aggregating or creating written, video, or audio content for specific mental wellness issues, such as stress management.
- This area has become crowded; however, solutions designing specifically for Gen Z and leveraging user insights to create a personalized experience are well positioned to compete.
Improved Online Experiences
- Problem: COVID-19 has shown us just how limited the options are for connecting virtually. For Gen Z, perhaps this was nothing new — they hold the unfortunate title of the loneliest living generation. Consumers are beginning to rethink the role of technology in their lives and what it means to interact online.
- Definition of this category: Technologies or tools that provide a better online experience by virtually strengthening social connections, reducing negative experiences on mainstream social platforms, and/or establishing a healthy engagement with tech.
- Additional Insights: An emerging trend we have seen among companies is the coupling of online communities and marketplaces, aiming to cater to the needs and preferences of targeted populations, such as BIPOC and LGBTQ+, not well served by the mainstream social platforms.
Positive Skill Building
- Problem: Within the U.S. and globally, there is a growing awareness of the critical role social and emotional skills will play in mitigating the current mental health crisis and preparing individuals for the future of work. Yet, building and reinforcing these skills in youth relies on programs that aren’t easy to scale or implement.
- Definition of this category: Structured programs that bolster positive social, emotional, and behavioral skills.
- Additional Insights: Many of the companies in this category can be classified as social and emotional learning (SEL) tools, with most selling SEL curriculum to K-12 schools. K-12 schools know they must do a better job developing and supporting the emotional wellbeing of students, but COVID-19 has created significant barriers to adoption and implementation. The companies best positioned to fill the current needs of schools are those that offer content that is quick and easy for teachers to deliver in person and virtually.
Non-licensed Support Services
- Problem: The U.S. has a shortage of clinicians available to treat the growing demand. Non-licensed mental health support services offer the opportunity to quickly scale the capacity of existing licensed professionals and provide support for low acuity users.
- Definition of this category: Chatbots, peers, or coaches that aim to provide virtual emotional support to users with low-acuity issues.
- Additional Insights: Nearly all of the companies in this category focus on delivering emotional support via chatbots or coaches, but we think there is untapped opportunity in peer or group support models. Specifically for Telosity’s target population, group sessions have shown evidence of effectiveness and represent a viable alternative to one-on-one therapy sessions.
Engagement & Adherence
- Problem: Despite the increase in prevalence of mental health issues in individuals younger than 18 years old, there are few solutions designed to help parents manage their child’s mental health treatment. Simultaneously, therapists are looking for ways to engage and retain patients, while also improving outcomes. These issues, combined with an increase in virtual mental health care as a result of COVID-19, is driving the need for better tools to disseminate information to kids and their parents and create better visibility for therapists into what happens between therapy sessions.
- Definition of this category: Tools that provide therapist-recommended treatment plans to young people (and in some cases, their parents) with the goal of increasing treatment plan adherence, recognizing potential patient triggers, identifying early-warning signs of worsening distress, and understanding how patients are progressing through treatment.
- Additional Insights: With adolescents and teens, there are an array of stakeholders—the young person, the parent, the therapist, and the school— that are often involved in the treatment of a mental health issue. This means tools must be designed to appeal and accommodate the unique needs and preferences of these different entities. Innovators need to be thinking about how to bring these stakeholders together on one platform in a way that adds value to each.
- Problem: The reality is that there will never be enough mental health clinicians to meet the growing demand, at least in the foreseeable future. Emerging technologies are critical to advancing the way we deliver mental health and emotional support and providing greater access to these services.
- Definition of this category: Virtual reality (VR), extended reality (XR), augmented reality (AR), internet of things (IoT), and wearables that can deliver novel interventions to improve mental health.
- Additional Insights:
- VR holds the potential to create better access to interventions that are high touch, and at times, difficult to implement, such as exposure therapy. Companies are attempting to create virtual environments that simulate real-world situations to help users conquer their fears, such as those related to phobia or social anxiety disorders.
- Another emerging area is wearables designed to deliver biofeedback to help users understand emotional triggers or guide users through mindfulness practices.
- Problem: Diagnosing a mental illness relies mainly on self-reported patient data, and oftentimes, after emotional distress is evident. There is huge opportunity and interest for tools that can create quick, easy-to-use diagnostics to identify who is currently or at risk of experiencing mental or emotional distress.
- Definition of this category: Screenings used to detect the presence of mental or emotional distress.
- Additional Insights: This category has evolved significantly in the last two years. When Telosity began, many companies in this category were focused on digitizing paper-based assessments; however, these are quickly becoming commoditized. As companies in other categories, like clinician access and engagement & adherence, recognize the importance of owning data related to patient outcomes, many are building assessments within their own platforms. Where we are seeing an uptick in activity and interest is around digital phenotyping, which attempts to use an individual's interaction with their personal digital device to identify early warning signs of a mental illness or escalation of an existing mental illness.
- Problem: More than 1 in 3 Americans live in areas designated as Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas. Individuals need options to virtually access mental health care; COVID-19 has only exacerbated this need.
- Definition of this category: Tools that facilitate a virtual or in-person connection to a licensed professional or therapist.
- Additional Insights: The biggest trend we are seeing is the development of platforms for specific populations, with the hope this will improve therapeutic alliance (in simple terms, the relationship between the mental health provider and patient). Therapeutic alliance is a better predictor of whether therapy will be effective than the type of intervention used. We are seeing companies optimize for this by enhancing the matchmaking process between a therapist and a patient and/or building provider networks uniquely positioned to serve certain populations.
Telosity is a Vinaj fund focused on investing in Pre-seed and Seed-stage companies improving mental wellbeing for 10 to 24 years old. Learn more at Telosity.co.