The National Institutes of Health have awarded the teletherapy platform Talkspace two grants worth nearly $7 million to research patients’ experiences with digital mental health services.
The first grant is almost $4 million and comes from the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. It will support a four-year randomized control trial that compares daily messaging-only therapy to once-weekly live video session therapy. The study will track differences in outcomes, engagement, ratings of the therapist, type of treatment provided and more to gauge the effectiveness of the different forms of care.
Talkspace was also given a $3 million NIH R01 grant for which it will partner with the University of Washington’s School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering, and Mental Health America. Together, the organizations will investigate the types of traits among patients who benefit the most from digital therapy, as well as how to enhance the onboarding and orientation process to improve user engagement and outcomes.
Both projects will be HIPAA compliant and patient information will be de-identified to protect the privacy of all patients participating, Talkspace said in its announcement.
WHY THIS MATTERS
The COVID-19 pandemic, the governmental mandates imposed to slow its spread and the resulting economic fallout have negatively impacted people’s mental health, all while creating barriers for access to care.
In mid-July of 2020, more than half of U.S. adults surveyed by the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the coronavirus. Compared to the 32% who reported those sentiments in March, this is a significant increase.
The respondents cited difficulties such as trouble sleeping (36%) or eating (32%), increases in alcohol consumption or substance use (12%), and worsening chronic conditions (12%), due to worry and stress over the pandemic.
While the need for care is on the rise, access to care has become increasingly difficult for most countries. In fact, 93% of countries have had major disruptions to their mental health services as a result of COVID-19, according to a survey conducted by the World Health Organization.
To meet people where they are, which is oftentimes in the home, 70% of countries surveyed by WHO have adopted telemedicine or teletherapy to overcome disruptions to in-person services.
Still, there are disparities in the adoption of these services, with more than 80% of high-income countries turning to digital health to bridge gaps in mental health, compared with less than 50% of low-income countries, according to WHO.
THE LARGER TREND
Talkspace made headlines in the fall for the company’s first acquisition of the couples counseling tool Lasting. The deal made it possible for the platform to offer Lasting’s services, which allows couples to complete content on their own time and is primarily self-guided.
Prior to these grants, Talkspace had a $50 million Series D funding round in 2019.
On the whole, digital behavioral health services are on the rise. The market has seen activity during the pandemic from the likes of Welldoc, with its addition of a mental health program to its platform, and Ontrak, with its acquisition of LifeDojo.
ON THE RECORD
“At a time when America’s mental health is in crisis, it is crucial experts find the most optimal solution for patients, including how they seek therapy, and the various forms of care and treatment available,” said Neil Leibowitz, the chief medical officer at Talkspace, in a statement.
“At Talkspace, we are committed to making therapy accessible and affordable to help those in need live a happier and healthier life. We are proud to join hands with the National Institute of Mental Health and research partners, Mental Health America and the University of Washington, to examine digital therapy tools and research how to improve treatment and outcomes to support the mental health of millions of Americans.”