Endorphins – The Exercise Hormone

December 2, 2021 | Raj Srivastav

A spirited run around the block or a set of pushups makes us feel elated and rejuvenated. Common logic would expect us to be tired and exhausted. This mood uplift is also called the ‘runner’s high’. Exercising causes the body to release many neurotransmitters of which endorphins relieve pain and stress. Physical exercise, on the other hand, has always been associated with physical goals.

These days physical exercise is also being pushed to relieve stress and achieve mental health goals. Stress is a common problem being experienced in today’s pandemic-rocked world. Stress has been a growing concern which eventually manifests itself physically. This underlying cause has been recognized by healthcare professionals and thus mental health care is garnering a lot of attention.

The US mental health crisis

Studies estimate that one in five adults in the US – that’s about 50 million people – struggle with mental health challenges in any given year. In 2019, 11% of Americans reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression, a figure that shot up to 42% by the end of 2020.

Even before the pandemic, the US mental health care system was able to treat only about half of those diagnosed with mental health conditions. This was due to a combination of factors, including a shortage of medical care providers (in 2016, over half of the counties in the US did not have a single practicing psychiatrist), stigmas associated with seeking mental health services, and cost constraints are driven by weak insurance coverage.

The mental health offerings have come in all different forms and shapes from calisthenics for the mind to the age-old oriental practice of yoga.

Handheld solutions

Venture capital firms have been investing in digital health care technologies for several years now. The Covid-19 health crisis, however, created a sudden, urgent demand for mental health services and support across the US. This led to a funding increase for the digital mental health industry, with tech startups developing innovative mental health care apps. In response, mental health startups launched free, partly free, or subscription-based apps with a wide variety of features to boost mental health care – from mood-tracking services and journaling options to on-demand coaching and virtual therapy.

Today, approximately 20,000 mental health apps are available for download via websites and smartphones. From meditation and breathing techniques to online sessions with mental health professionals, today’s mental health technologies seek to bridge the gap between people in need of mental health care (for instance, those with addiction or sleep disorders) and the options they have to address it.

While health and fitness apps are typically not expected to substitute face-to-face care from a doctor or therapist, some mental health care startups have teamed up with healthcare professionals to provide a comprehensive list of mental health services: from access to licensed therapists (via text messages, phone, or video calls) to setting up online consultations with psychiatrists who can prescribe antidepressants.

Accessible and convenient

Accessibility is the key feature of any app, which holds true for mental health care apps too. Nearly everyone has a smartphone, so for anyone who wants to learn better coping mechanisms or art-based therapy to tackle anxiety, or have a video call with a therapist, mental health programs can be accessed without even leaving the house.

They can be a convenient way to manage their symptoms alongside therapy or psychiatric consultations, while for those who require a ‘mental push-up’ during stressful times, the apps can work as ‘mental health gyms’, helping them to be more self-aware, resilient, and mindful throughout their day.

Broad features

Some apps help their users directly connect with professionals from the mental health care industry. Paid apps such as Talkspace, Headspace, Ginger, and BetterHealth, for example, help users schedule sessions with mental health care providers via text, phone, or video appointments. Others like Lyra and Modern Health tie-up with companies and are only accessible through employers.

Calm, which was Apple’s ‘App of the Year’ in 2017, does not offer this medical component. It has a more holistic approach. For those who want to reduce stress levels, improve sleep quality, or learn quick relaxation techniques, Calm offers a gamut of guided meditations, breathing techniques, stretching videos, soothing soundtracks, and sleep stories for adults as well children.

Others such as Happify and Liberate – both mental health care apps offering meditation, relaxation techniques, and safe community spaces for those dealing with anxiety, stress, depression, sleep disorders, or past trauma – provide several free courses, though there may be ads or in-app purchases.

Not all of the courses, however, are conducted by professionals from the mental health industry. Some courses or interactions are led by behavioral coaches who motivate users to achieve specific mental health fitness goals. Others may be more automated, where the users set their own goals while the app tracks their progress. The free app Moodfit, for instance, offers mood-tracking services, is adaptable based on the user’s ‘mood goals’ and helps them track their progress through daily reminders.

Some apps offer new strategies for users to change their behaviors and thought patterns based on cognitive behavioral therapy. Others help the user explore relaxing or rewarding activities such as drawing or doing a set number of push-ups to improve their mood and confidence during times of high stress or anxiety.

Mental health startups

In 2020, digital mental health startups received investments of more than US$1.5 billion from venture investors. This is more than five times the funding given to companies to develop mental health apps in 2016.

In terms of valuation, the top mental health startups as of mid-2021 (US-based ‘unicorns’ or startups valued at more than US$1 billion) are Genoa, Lyra Health, Calm, BetterUp, Talkspace, Modern Health, and Ginger.

The statistics indicate that there is an immense demand for mental health services because the pandemic has changed people’s perceptions of what mental health care is, who needs it, and how it can be provided. In the last two years, mental health care providers and their clients have shown increased willingness to shift to online modes of consultation and therapy being provided by health care app development companies. Moreover, the severe shortage of licensed professionals and exponential growth in care requirements have given mental health startups a unique opportunity to develop apps and health care technologies aimed at helping people achieve better mental fitness or relief from symptoms of existing mental health conditions.

The top mental health startups of 2020-21 offer users a variety of treatment plans, therapies, practices, activities, and strategies to boost their mental health. There is certainly a need for evidence-based studies, quality control, and accountability in the field, but in a world where people are increasingly reaching out to their smartphones for social media interaction, information, shopping, and a sense of connection, the demand for mental health apps and technologies is only expected to grow.

There are quite a few startups in this sector that have great offerings but have not yet found their potential due to the inability to create a critical mass of customer base. And this is where SDI comes in. With a team of experienced web developers, we can help you expand your pool of customers, attract more business, while making a difference in people’s lives. Call us today at 408.621.8481 to start a fruitful association.

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