Online mental health services spike up during pandemic

Bambi Francisco Roizen · March 17, 2020 · Short URL:

Social distancing causes stress, anxiety and people are turning online for help

[Editor's note: Future of Behavioral and Mental Health with BetterHelp, Headspace,, Providence Hospitals, UnitedHealthcare Optum, Khosla Ventures, Oak HC/FT and more has become 3 virtual conferences and one live event pushed out to May 27! Register one time for all 4 events! REGISTER. Also, during this stressful time use the code "vator" for 50% off BetterHelp online therapy for 3 months!]

{Correction: Headspace 'weathering the storm'}

Last week, I wrote about the blessings of being present during this time we are asked to self-quarantine. It is the upside of viewing our surreal circumstances. Yet we are social beings and staying inside curtails those interactions we very much need, especially if we have no one to talk to. At least one study of 129 quarantined people during the SARS virus showed psychological distress. "Symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression were observed in 28.9% and 31.2% of respondents, respectively," the study showed.

Fortunately, there are a number of online services that people can use to find someone to talk to or find some solace. Apparently, these services are already seeing a surge of activity.  

"We've heard from our therapists how Coronavirus increased the level of anxiety with their current clients. We've also seen a spike in people starting online therapy with us," Alon Matas, President of Teladoc's BetterHelp, told me. "The number of new members with concerns of stress and anxiety in February more than doubled compared to February of last year, and this trend is accelerating in March."  BetterHelp is providing free service for clients who have been financially impacted by the outbreak (e.g. layoff or loss of income). For new clients, the company is offering financial aid that can cover up to 50% of the counseling cost. Counselors will still be paid but BetterHelp will subsidize the loss.

Alon will be joining us March 25 at 3 pm PT for our first virtual conference for Future of Mental and Behavioral Health. He'll also join us for our live event on May 27.
Headspace, which offers up mindfulness and meditation, said it will be offering free Headspace Plus subscriptions to healthcare professionals in public health settings in the US to address burnout. Starting Monday, March 13, US-based healthcare professionals in a public health setting can get a free subscription by going to a special Covid-19 page.
You will need your National Provider Identifier to sign up. Additionally, there is a curated collection of content called "Weathering the storm" that is unlocked to all consumers. It contains meditations, at-home workouts, sleep content and advice for navigating tough times. Of course, meditation is a great way to steady the heart when we're typically immersed in the madness of life. Now that it's slowed down to a crawl, don't interactions with people matter most?
"In times of uncertainty, and especially as people increasingly avoid social gatherings or work remotely, it can feel disconcerting and isolating for many," said Dr. Megan Bell, Chief Science Officer, Headspace, in an email to me. "First and foremost, try to stay connected in whatever virtual means possible. It’s a great opportunity to apply strategies from your work life to your personal life. It’s time to get creative and try things like a virtual dinner date with friends or a daily family stand-up with older family members who are most at risk of loneliness and COVID-19."
While Headspace doesn't provide therapists, it does offer "group meditations." You can go to "Everybody Headspace" group meditations. Or you can join “Everybody Headspace” group meditations in the app to connect with people.
At Ginger, CEO Russ Glass says activity has shot up. See the spike in messages that included the words Covid-19, coronavirus and a few other related terms. 
Comparing the last two weeks (Feb 19 - March 5th) with the 2 previous weeks (Feb 4th - Feb 18th), we observed the following, Glass told me:
  • 16% increase in the total number of sessions

  • 5% increase in the number of sessions per user

  • 9.4% increase in daily active users (users who sent, at least, 1 message to their coaching team)

  • 9.6% increase in daily messages

  • 10%+ increase in therapy and psychiatry sessions to record levels

Glass will be joining us March 25 at 3 pm PT for our first virtual conference for Future of Mental and Behavioral Health. He'll also join us for our live event on May 27. 


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Bambi Francisco Roizen

Founder and CEO of Vator, a media and research firm for entrepreneurs and investors; Managing Director of Vator Health Fund; Co-Founder of Invent Health; Author and award-winning journalist.

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