Meru Health launches wearable companion to track biofeedback

The tool was designed to help users see their heart rate variability.
By Laura Lovett
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Digital mental health company Meru Health is launching a new wearable aimed at helping its users understand the mind-body connection through biofeedback.

Meru’s platform uses a multi-pronged approach to helping customers improve mental health including connections to licensed therapists, digital tools and peer support. 

The new tool is meant to be clipped on a user’s ear when they are doing a specific biofeedback practice provided by the Meru platform. Users will then feedback about their heart rate variability during the session. The idea is to help participants see results train their breathing practices.

“With a lot of the mental health issues in our society, there is a lot of ambiguity,” Kristian Ranta,

CEO  and founder, told MobiHealthNews. “They are intangible things but when we are bringing physiological feedback to people, [they] can see these self-regulatory practices have an impact on physiology.”

Every participant will get the wearable in the mail, which they can keep even after the program.

“The mind and body are connected. When you calm down the nervous system, any anxiety and depression will start easing,” he said.

This announcement comes less than a month after Meru Health published results from its year-long study in JMIR, which found a smartphone delivered therapy intervention created for the study was associated with reductions in symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Ranta said the results are important because digital mental healthcare is often lacking validation.

“The biggest issues in mental healthcare today are lack of access and lack of efficacy,” he said.

As part of this news, the company announced that it is appointing UCSF Professor Dr. Elissa Epel, Rutgers Professor Dr. Paul Lehrer and Dr. Daniel Kraft, a physician and innovator, to its scientific advisory board.

WHY IT MATTERS

It’s no secret that there is a shortage of trained mental health professionals worldwide. The World Health Organization reports that on average only 1% to 6% of health budgets are spent on mental health. 

However, depression and anxiety are both fairly common conditions. Roughly 40 million Americans over the age of 18 are living with an anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. While the condition is treatable, only about 37% get treatment.

Now many providers and patients are turning to digital solutions to tackle that gap. Increasingly innovators have been interested in giving patients data that can help better understand their mental wellbeing.

“In some ways the first application of technology is going to be to redefine what are those mental illnesses,” Dr. John Torous, co-director of digital psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, said at a conference last year.

While Torous’ lab has employed patients’ smartphone data, including usage and GPS trackers, as a way to quantify recovery and relapse, others in the field are turning to biofeedback markers.

THE LARGER TREND

This isn’t the only startup tapping into biofeedback for relaxation. In 2018 a team of Australian researchers investigated BrightHearts, an iOS app designed for use with certain wearable sensors. The app asks users to focus on their breathing, and displays shifting colors and audio tones based on the user’s detected heart rate.

A Boston Children’s spinout called Mighter has developed a biofeedback video game to help children with emotional regulation. Children wear a sensor while playing, and the game offers strategies for emotional regulation, like deep breathing. Children must calm themselves in order to beat the game.

ON THE RECORD

“We are thrilled to launch HRV Biofeedback as part of our program. In our clinical studies with Harvard and Rutgers researchers, we’ve seen the addition of HRV Biofeedback more than double the number of patients with clinically significant improvements in depression,” Ranta said in a statement. “We’ve recently submitted a controlled study for peer-review where we analyzed our data and reported some of our findings in more detail. The paper, which is currently under peer-review, can be found pre-archived at PsyArXiv Preprints. We are also thrilled to publish our 1-year outcomes which are truly groundbreaking in terms of long-term efficacy in depression and anxiety care. We are also extremely proud to be working with such masterminds of medicine like Professor Elissa Epel, Professor Paul Lehrer and Dr Daniel Kraft, who are joining Meru Health on our journey to setting a new standard for the care of depression and anxiety.”