The mental health industry is overflowing with innovations. At the same time, the need for more scalable mental health interventions has also grown more than ever. Many companies are attempting to meet the high demand for mental health services with teletherapy and online education, but few have truly unique and high-quality models to address the growing need.
This week, I got a chance to talk to Kristian Ranta, Founder and CEO of Meru Health, about their evidence-based approach to mental healthcare and their recent funding announcement. You can read our conversation below.
The balance of tech vs. touch for virtual mental healthcare has been an ongoing debate. What is it about Meru's program that really perfects the balance?
At Meru Health, we’ve found that the human element is essential. Having a human connection drives significantly better engagement and clinical results when compared with technology alone.
However, many of the teletherapy-based solutions we’re seeing in the market right now are basically just an online version of the traditional care, with a therapist talking with patients online either via video or chat. This leads to two main problems: 1. There aren't enough providers out there to help everyone in need. 2. The quality of care is not standardized. If you scientifically analyze the treatment outcomes, they’re actually quite poor. What mental healthcare needs is true innovation – not a new version of an outdated system.
At Meru Health, we’re doing things differently. Each participant has a personal therapist, who serves as a guide throughout the program. But the program isn’t just delivered from the therapist to the participant — the participant takes an active role in their health. Participants are empowered to complete weekly/daily lessons independently and gain critical insight about their health and wellbeing through biofeedback tracking. While the program is self-guided, their therapist will regularly check in to discuss the practices, and participants can always reach out for support. One therapist is able to treat up to 8x more patients with this model compared to traditional therapy.
With this model, we’ve seen engagement rates of 80% and remission rates of 60% (meaning participants have no symptoms at the end of treatment). Importantly, these rates are sustained 12 months after starting the program. The idea is to empower people with the skills they need to care for their mental health both during and after the program. Meru Health’s treatment isn’t a “quick fix” — it’s about building lifelong wellbeing.
An important factor I'd like to add here is that mental healthcare isn’t going to improve just by bringing therapists online — the care itself needs to improve. At Meru Health, we’ve created a comprehensive and holistic program that looks at a person’s whole experience: Are they eating nutritious food? Are they practicing sleep hygiene? Are they getting enough exercise? Is there inflammation behind their depression symptoms? Mental health is about someone’s entire experience, and their treatment should be, too.
Meru has always had an extra emphasis on research and outcomes. Can you tell us more about your recent study?
Gladly! We’ve published 8 peer-reviewed research papers to date. Our most recent paper, currently under peer-review, examined the effect of the Meru Health program on suicidality. As you might know, this topic is a personal one for me. I lost my brother Peter to suicide. He had been struggling with depression for a long time and eventually it led him to take his own life.
In this study, we assessed participants’ reductions in suicidal ideation by tracking their PHQ-9 (Patient Health Questionnaire-9 item scale) scores. This data was combined with a published study that estimated the changes in suicide attempts and deaths from changes in PHQ-9 assessed suicidal ideation.
We found that through using the Meru Health program, participants’ suicidal ideation fell from 22% at the start of treatment to 9% at its end, 8% at 3-month follow-up, and 7% at 6-month follow-up. Estimates showed that suicide attempts and deaths by suicide fell over 30% over the course of the program and continued to slightly reduce over the course of follow-up, indicating a sustained effect up to 6 months after treatment. From this data, the Meru Health program is estimated to prevent 1 suicide attempt for every 438 patients we enroll and 1 death by suicide for every 5841 patients. I could not be prouder to be part of the solution to help prevent suicide.
Congratulations on your new round of funding! How will it further your mission to change the future of mental healthcare?
Thank you! We’re thrilled to keep expanding nationwide access to our Meru Health Treatment solution as well as our new coaching solution. The new coach-led prevention solution is an important step towards preventive mental healthcare. We’re able to help people who are showing early signs of depression, burnout, anxiety, or stress and keep their symptoms from worsening. We can teach people the skills they need to care for their mental wellbeing, so they won't reach clinical levels of depression or anxiety. On top of this, we plan to continue building our in-house research team and partnering with top universities to continue developing the new standard of mental healthcare.