We hosted conversations with many innovative leaders during our Going Digital: Behavioral Health Tech Conference. One of these conversations focused on women’s mental health and was led by Anjlee Joshi, the Head of New Markets at Amae Health. The panel included Jessica Bell van der Wal, the Co-Founder and CEO of Frame Fertility, Layo George RN, MHSA Founder and Executive Director of Wolomi, and Crystal Adesanya, Founder and CEO at Kiira Health. All of these leaders gave us incredible insights into the world of women’s mental health.
This conversation happened before the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe v Wade, but we must mention the ways in which this ruling has changed the landscape of women’s mental health in the United States. The United States has already been in a mental health crisis. The American Psychological Association (APA) confirms that this ruling will exacerbate the ongoing crisis, and increased structural barriers to abortion affect individuals’ psychological health. Additionally, this ruling will affect the healthcare system as a whole, telemedicine, and ethical dilemmas faced by providers. Women of color will feel the most significant impact.
This conversation discusses the pregnancy journey, women’s health, and how stakeholders can respond. Importantly, we address that women’s health is often seen as a “niche” or solely as reproductive health and is underfunded. Rock Health reported that as of 2021, companies focused on women’s health make up just 5% of digital health funding since they started recording in 2021, and companies focused on pregnancy, postpartum, and parenthood made up 37% of women’s health companies founded in the past five years. However, women make 80% of healthcare buying decisions, so there is a massive opportunity to cater to women and their healthcare needs.
Many aspects of women’s health in the United States need to be addressed. Crystal says she thinks about “how do you utilize technology to increase access, but also create services that are empathetic, one, and compassionate and culturally centered? I think that’s a big piece of what’s missing when you think about the healthcare experiences of women [in the US].”
Layo also emphasizes, “women of color, specifically, black women are three to four times [more] likely to die on their pregnancy journey, and it doesn’t matter if you’re educated if you have all the money in the world… There’s evidence that shows oftentimes we are more likely to not be listened to.” Black maternal mortality is at higher rates than in any other developed country.
Additionally, Jessica emphasizes that “there’s a lack of research and data around women’s health and fertility.” In fact, women weren’t required to be in clinical research until 1993.
Many women have shared their challenging pregnancy journeys to show other women that they are not alone. Even on this panel, Layo spoke of her experience with perinatal depression, and Jessica explained her experience with postpartum depression. Layo explained that they have mental health screening on the Wolomi app because “there is not a lot of [mental health] screening that happens during [the pregnancy] journey, prenatal and postnatal.”
Jessica reminds us of some harrowing statistics about family planning, “42% of people that go through fertility treatment report feeling suicidal and 94% of people report feeling depressed.”
Additionally, “four out of five women experience some level of anxiety when thinking about their ability to get pregnant, and more than a quarter [is] very or extremely anxious, and that anxiety starts at around 19 or 20.” Even before many women plan to start their families, women report being anxious about how their future fertility will unfold.
Crystal also reminds us that we also need to support and encourage women to take care of their mental health actively and continuously. She remarks, “because it’s not until they have very serious problems with their mental health, and then they’re like, maybe I should get it checked.” The high cost of therapy can be one reason people don’t access mental health earlier, but some digital solutions are trying to tackle those problems head-on.
One of the biggest misconceptions about women’s health is that it is not profitable. As Crystal explains, women’s health is a “very profitable industry. There are millions of women and billions of dollars that need to be made within the women’s health space, and I am positive that we are getting to that place where there is more and more of a recognition of the fact that this is an industry that has a lot of areas that needs to be touched on.”
Jessica agrees and continues, “I think there’s a temptation, for some reason or another, in women’s health, whether you’re an employer or investor, and wherever you are on the spectrum to say, ‘I’ve checked the box on women’s health, I must be done.’ And I think that means you assume that women’s health is kind of one piece of the puzzle. But I think if you flip that, the question I’d say is actually, ‘do you believe that health for women is different than health for men?’ And fundamentally, it is, and that’s why you see different vertical and deep plays in spaces of cardiovascular health for women, mental health for women, fertility health for women.” There are so many opportunities to innovate and reimagine care for women.
Crystal also emphasizes, “that’s something we need to remember in the investment communities. The fact that we can make a little go a long way does not mean that we do not need more resources.” Jessica ends with a call to action, saying, “I want to encourage employers and payers and investors to be curious enough to want to reach out to us and talk about these things.
But luckily, all of our panelists have hope for the future of women’s health. Layo explains that she has seen women “have a breakthrough or they have this beautiful birthing experience or [they] change their provider because of something they’ve learned, and they know how to advocate for themselves. And that gives me hope them the word getting out there.”
Jessica agrees, “we want to help women understand more about their bodies earlier, their hormones, their sexual health, their reproductive health. And we want to make sure these conversations with their providers are happening at least annually. And there’s interest, again, from all of these parties to want to participate. So that gives me hope.”
You can watch our full panel and hear more of these conversations here.