A boom in digital health investments has enabled millions of tech-savvy patients to address their mental health with virtual appointments or digital exercises in lieu of spending an hour on a therapist’s couch. Now venture capitalists are taking the next step: scoping out solutions to make care just as accessible to patients with the most severe mental illnesses.
An estimated 13 million American adults experienced a serious mental illness in the past year, for a cumulative economic impact of more than $300 billion annually, according to federal data. But only a handful of startups across the country explicitly target serious mental illness—a category that refers to any condition that substantially interferes with someone’s life and ability to function. Many of the companies have been around no longer than three years.
Sam Toole, who spearheads health care investments as a principal at Primary Venture Partners, a seed-stage firm that focuses on New York City startups, attributed the relative scarcity of the startups to the difficulty of the problem they aim to solve. Success means building a scalable business model to treat conditions, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, that require a much greater variety and higher quantity of services than low-severity diagnoses.