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The Rise of Mental Health Tech

As society looks to rebound from COVID-19, another crisis arises: mental health. According to a scientific brief published by the World Health Organisation (WHO), anxiety and depression rates rose by 25% in the first year of the pandemic.

The main culprit behind this startling spike in anxiety and depression? The pandemic-induced social isolation. People forced to stay indoors due to mandatory lockdowns faced enormous stress finding work, seeking support from their loved ones, and engaging with their wider communities.

As WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated,

“This is a wake-up call to all countries to pay more attention to mental health and do a better job of supporting their populations’ mental health.”

Indeed, COVID-19’s exacerbation of mental health issues calls for more to be done to support mental health across the globe. Mental health technology has thus arisen to answer this call, employing digital tools like mobile phones and tablets to help people get the support they require for their mental health needs.

Here’s an overview of what we’ll cover in this article:

  • What is mental health tech?
  • Why mental health tech is needed today
  • GGV and mental health tech 
  • Case Study: Revery

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What is mental health tech?

Mental health tech is, in essence, a technology designed to treat and manage mental health conditions across the spectrum, from simple mental wellness to acute illness. At present, mental health tech specifically refers to mobile apps designed for mental health treatment, as identified by the USA’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

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Why mental health tech is needed today

While mental health apps are not a new-fangled invention, it was only during COVID-19 that these apps grew astronomically. In 2020, the Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Apps (ORCHA) recorded a 6,500% increase in healthcare professionals recommending them to patients in 2020. 

In 2021, ORCHA released another report that zeroed in on the search patterns of consumers for apps that dealt with mental health. Significant spikes were recorded across the board, broken down as follows:

  • Mindfulness: 2483%
  • Relaxation: 437%
  • OCD: 422%
  • Anxiety: 328%
  • Anger: 324%
  • Fear: 221%
  • Mood: 202%
  • Depression: 156%
  • Stress: 113%

As these numbers show, the care of people’s mental health needs addressing. And mental health apps can cater to this need, giving people an easy means to track their therapy process from the convenience of their phones.

Over in Singapore, mental health tech also gained precedence during COVID-19, led by the Ministry of Health Office for Healthcare Transformation (MOHT). Along with the Ministry of Social and Family Development, the National Council of Social Service, and the Institute of Mental Health, MOHT created, a one-stop mental health platform for people to seek support from the comfort of their homes.

While mental health apps can’t wholly replace physical healthcare infrastructure, they still serve as an effective supplement to help people better manage and care for their mental health anytime, anywhere.

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GGV and mental health tech 

Mental health tech aligns with GGV’s mission of using technology for social good, which is why GGV is invested in the mental health tech space. Our involvement in mental health tech is still in the infancy stage, beginning with Revery, a startup that employs mobile gaming to address mental health conditions.

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Case Study: Revery

Started by Tammie Siew and Khoa Tran in March 2021, Revery’s mission is simple: to make access to mental wellness affordable and accessible to everyone through the medium of mobile gaming. In August 2021, Revery secured $2 million in a funding round led by Sequoia Capital India’s Surge programme.

Revery’s initial focus is sleep. According to Tammie, this is because sleep is deeply intertwined with mental health:

“Sleep has such a strong correlation with mental health, and we’re leveraging protocols, cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia, that’s robust and have been tried and tested for 30 years.”

Sleep does indeed have a huge impact on mental health, with poor sleep exacerbating the symptoms of many mental conditions like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. Conversely, mental health conditions are also known to negatively impact sleep. Given the circular relationship between sleep and mental health, it thus makes sense for Revery to position sleep as its priority.

In addition to this, Tammie shared that everyone on the Revery team has a “deeply personal connection” to the startup’s mission. They have either personally experienced or had a family member or friend undergo mental health challenges.

Khoa candidly shared that he had suffered from sleep apnea when he was younger, which led to a series of debilitating physical and mental health problems. As he put it,

“When I finally got treatment for my sleep disorder, only then did I realize the impact of sleep on mental health.”

While Revery has not shared many details about its app before its official debut, it aims to combine insomnia-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques with games. Revery hopes to help its users manage their insomnia in an interactive and fun way.

Our managing partner Jenny Lee is optimistic about Revery’s work, expressing confidence in what they aim to achieve:

“We are excited about the growing mental wellness market, and believe that Revery’s unique mobile game-based approach has the opportunity to create immense impact. We are happy to back such a mission-driven team in this space.”

Revery is in beta stealth mode and has yet to be released publicly. 

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Mental health tech will be the panacea for mental health

The growing prevalence of mental health tech worldwide is heartening. Once treated as things that can be swept under the rug, mental health issues are now receiving the care and attention that they rightfully deserve. As ORCHA CEO Ashall-Payne rightfully states, “digital health is going to be the new medicine”, as people increasingly turn to digital apps to receive support for their mental health conditions.

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