Mental Health-Focused Startups Offer Tips For Managing Mental Health and How Businesses Can Support Their Employees

Mental Health Awareness Month Q&A with Butterflly Health, OOTify, and Litesprite

May 27th, 2021

Now, more than ever, mental health has never been more important. Although over the past decade we have seen increasing acknowledgment of the importance of mental health, it is hard to deny that the pandemic has also shone a light on just how essential a healthy mind is to a person’s well-being. 

According to research from the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 1 billion people live with a mental health disorder and in low-income countries, and more than 75% of people with the disorder do not receive treatment. What’s even more concerning is that the pandemic has disrupted or, in some cases, halted critical mental health services in 93% of countries worldwide, while the demand for mental health continues to increase.  

Given this crisis we find ourselves in, we’re especially excited and proud of the various startups within our portfolio striving to provide innovative solutions aimed at improving mental health for individuals from all backgrounds. These are startups that are working to address the gaps when it comes to mental health support, including lack of access and affordability, as well as fear of stigma. 

In honor of Mental Health Awareness month, we chatted with Ravi Sharma, OOTify;  Swatee Surve, Litesprite; and Areva Martin, Butterflly Health (three of our portfolio founders running mental health startups) to get them to tell us a bit more about what the month means to them, how businesses can support their employees when it comes to taking care of themselves, and what they do to improve their mental well-being.  

If you want to learn more about these startups and others within our portfolio focussed on mental health, visit our “Portfolio” page. 

Mental Health Awareness Month Q&A 

What does Mental Health Awareness Month mean to you, and what makes it especially important this year?

  • This month is a reminder of my life’s mission. I’ve lost two family members and my tennis partner to suicide while simultaneously seeing many loved ones unable to get access to personalized care because of cost, stigma, or structural issues in our healthcare system. To honor the importance of this month, we also launched OOTify’s first children’s mental health book that highlights the importance of physical and mental health parity. It gives parents the opportunity to talk to their kids about mental health early on, which is so important as 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14 and 75% by age 24 according to research pulled by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. (Ravi)
  • Mental Health Awareness month is meaningful because it’s an opportunity to have an open non-judgmental conversation about mental health. It’s especially important this year. The WHO has stated that COVID-19 has amplified a “parallel pandemic of poor mental health” and it is likely to play out over years or even decades. Over half of Americans are reporting they are struggling with a mental health challenge and already vulnerable communities such as Black, Latino, Indigenous, and LGBTQ+ people are being disproportionately impacted. (Swatee)
  • This is a month where we get to shine a light on the millions of Americans who have mental health challenges. We also get to debunk myths, confront stigmas and encourage those who need professional health to seek it. (Areva) 

How does your startup support individuals in taking care of their mental health? 

  • OOTify’s culture and DNA caters to everyone’s mental health and wellness needs. Employees (and leadership) are able to take personal mental health days, communicate any personal issues, and there is 360-degree personalized support. (Ravi)
  • Litesprite supports individuals on their journey of better mental health. Players have told us that our mental health videogame, Sinasprite, feels immersive, interactive, experiential and forces them to focus. Socks, the game’s character, is very important for them when it comes to emotional support and helps them practice skills. Sinasprite is a non-competitive experience and safe place where they can explore their own emotions and not be judged. (Swatee) 
  • Butterflly Health is a digital solution that provides greater access to care. Our four-step intervention is designed to catch people before they are in such an acute state where they need in-person therapy or medication. We provide peer groups and a culturally centered empowerment kit focused on intersectionality, trauma-informed principles, and text-based coaching and opportunities for end-users to control their own health data. (Areva) 

What motivated you to create a startup that focuses on mental health?

  • I grew up poor in a housing project surviving on food stamps and Medicaid. I saw first-hand what it meant not to have access to high-quality medical care, especially mental health care. I knew it didn’t have to be that way. I knew that many family members and friends who suffered from mental health issues could have lived productive lives if they had access to care. Butterflly Health addresses the issues of stigma and access. (Areva)
  • I was frustrated with existing solutions and had been through the system. I find myself to be fortunate and felt compelled to help others less fortunate that may have been unable to navigate the fragmented and fractured mental healthcare system. (Ravi) 
  • As I was researching the underlying causes of overall health outcomes, poor mental health was a key driver. Yet mental health treatment was highly stigmatized and there were few technology-based solutions available to help improve access. And those that were available followed traditional models. (Swatee)

What are things that you do to take care of your mental health, especially as an entrepreneur? 

  • The pandemic showed me just how important it was for me to get some fresh air, regular physical exercise, and have a good social support network. It’s easy to let your life become governed by your calendar. Making room daily for these things is the one thing that has kept my sanity. (Swatee) 
  • I value my mental and physical health. To protect my mental health, I exercise regularly, mostly outside, pray, meditate and journal. I also set appropriate boundaries and ensure that I surround myself with positive, drama-free people. (Areva) 
  • Coaching and self-care. I have a performance coach that I’ve been working with for over a year that I supplement with therapy from time to time. I also play tennis, basketball, and golf to burn some calories, grow friendships, and tackle founder and general life anxiety. (Ravi) 

How can businesses support their employees with taking care of their mental health?

  • There are many things employers can do to support their employees. First, acknowledging that everyone at some point needs support, especially after this past year. That it’s ok to not be ok. Second, provide a range of tools from new self-help tools to traditional treatment methods (for example, therapy). Mental health is highly individual so one approach will only reach a certain portion of your employees. Third, give employees time and flexibility to utilize the resources or incorporate new changes they want to implement to improve their mental health. (Swatee) 
  • Businesses can invest in mental health apps like Butterflly that provide private, 24-hour access to cognitive behavioral therapies. They can also provide paid time off, create opportunities for breaks, reduced work assignments, and provide health insurance that offers comprehensive mental health benefits. (Areva) 
  • Businesses need to augment existing health plans and EAP resources with programs like OOTify. This will make it easier to talk about mental health, invest in programming that creates training and fluency in mental health both at the leadership and employee level, and ultimately, create a better culture that collectively moves the company towards a brighter and more profitable future. (Ravi) 

What are things that people can do to improve their mental health? 

  • In addition to encouraging their health insurance provider to contract with Butterflly (smile), they can develop healthy mental health habits such as regular exercise, meditation or scheduled quiet time, practice gratitude, separate from toxic people, and engage in activities that make them happy. And if despite doing all of these things, a person still feels sad all the time or experiences symptoms, I recommend seeking professional health. (Areva) 
  • Everyone’s journey is unique and things should be recommended based on the same. Self-care, coaching, sports, and building relationships with friends work for me and may or may not work for others. (Ravi) 
  • There are many simple things one can do to start down the path to better mental health that only take a few minutes. A 2-minute mini-break between the day’s activities where you stretch, take your eyes away from the screen, meditate, or step outside and breathe fresh air. These small things can be rejuvenating and allow for re-focusing. It’s also important to not isolate yourself. With things starting to open up, it should be easier to connect with friends. (Swatee) 

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