Some of you know that I came into this space first as a very anxious teenager. I was gripped with panic attacks and obsessive compulsive disorder as an adolescent, but with very few places to turn to online. It was at that time that I started a blog to help other teens with anxiety, ultimately nurturing my interest in technology and online communities for mental health. 15 years later, adolescent mental health issues are more prevalent than ever, with 9.7% of youth in the U.S. having severe major depression in 2021, compared to 9.2% in last year’s Mental Health America dataset.
However, there is also reason to be very hopeful: with increased attention to youth mental health through the pandemic, more resources are pouring into the topic than ever before. Philanthropies like Pivotal Ventures are leading the charge in investing resources into adolescent mental health. States like California are allocating unprecedented funding in student mental health. New youth mental health startups are emerging and established mental health startups are tailoring their services to youth.
I run The Upswing Fund for Adolescent Mental Health, a philanthropic collaborative fund seeded by Pivotal Ventures, Melinda French Gates’ personal investment and incubation company. I’ve also had the great pleasure of serving as an advisor for the Telosity fund and Hopelab for a few years now. This year at Going Digital: Behavioral Health Tech’s 2021 conference (#GDBHT2021), we had an entire track dedicated to youth mental health. I’m thrilled to share some thoughts from Allyson Plosko, Director of Telosity, and their approach to investing in youth mental health startups:
Why are you investing in youth mental health tech?
17% of young people experience a mental health disorder. Despite the well-established benefits of intervening early, a significant portion of these kids—as high as 60% for those suffering from major depressive disorder—don’t receive the care they need. It’s clear that the traditional way of delivering mental health services is leaving many young people in need, and we think there is a huge opportunity to leverage mental health tech tools to support young people where they are, which, like most of us, is online. While the youth mental health tech market is still relatively nascent, we are excited by the immense potential to positively impact young people and hopefully reduce the impact mental health issues have on a young person's life trajectory.
One of your investment pillars at the Telosity fund is to foster positive online experiences and interactions for young people. Why is this important at this moment in time?
The confluence of events over the past year and a half have shown that we need more inclusive, authentic ways to virtually connect. Even before the pandemic, young people were struggling with loneliness. In a study done by Cigna, members of Gen Z ranked as the loneliest generation. While it might be easy to place all the blame on technology, we actually think that thoughtfully designed tech tools can be a really important part of helping young (really, all) people feel more connected to others.
Your most recent investment was in Ksana. Tell us more about them?
Ksana Health is improving mental health through objective measurement and personalized interventions. Ksana Health was born out of academic research from the CEO, Nick Allen, Ph.D., who is widely known in the field for his research in adolescent mental health. Aside from the expertise of the team, what initially attracted us to Ksana Health is the problem the company is solving around mental health measurement. There currently isn't an efficient way to understand the state of an individual's mental health and determine whether that person might be at risk of a crisis. We think solving this challenge will help unlock care delivery models that better triage individuals, allowing clinicians to practice at the top of their license and increase access to those who need care the most.
Log into our website for free to see so many rich youth mental health sessions co-hosted with Telosity and Hopelab here, including Ksana Health, Dr. Wizdom Powell, and so many more.