“The Kids Aren’t Alright”
By Emily Melton, Partner, Threshold Ventures
During COVID, my husband and I have spent many a late evening listening to 90s rock and reminiscing about our youth. Nostalgia is a common coping mechanism for individuals during times of anxiety, stress, or mild depression. I am no exception. During one of my coping sessions, I became reacquainted with “The Kids Aren’t Alright,” the 1998 hit by The Offspring. When it was originally released, I identified with “the kids,” but this time as a parent, going through our current health crisis, the song hit a very different nerve.
While children appear to be less susceptible to the physical risks of COVID, the psychological impacts of growing up during this unique time in history are not yet understood. Children also have to deal with the unintended consequences of school closures, lack of social interaction, increased social media consumption, reduction in health care services and increased stress levels at home. Altered routines and disturbed sleep can be particularly intense for children with developmental challenges. One in five children has a behavioral health condition, yet roughly 80% do not get the care they need. Pediatric behavioral health challenges have been on the rise for years — anxiety, depression, ADHD, and autism — yet investment in and access to evidence-based practices has been woefully inadequate. COVID has and will continue to exacerbate many of the challenges faced by this population. Even for those who are able to access care, there is a shortage of telehealth or virtual solutions for children and for many doctors, their only option is to prescribe medication. Children with behavioral health challenges, and their parents are desperate for accessible and holistic care.
Last fall Brightline assembled a cross-disciplinary team to reimagine behavioral health for children. The team spent the last nine months building a hybrid virtual and in-person behavioral health clinic for children. With the arrival of COVID, they realized that during this pandemic, the need for their services would be substantial, and the delivery of patient care would be different. They pulled forward their timeline and this summer introduced their telehealth programs, enabling high-quality behavioral health care and support for families accessible from the comfort and safety of home.
Brightline’s expert team of licensed therapists and psychiatrists provide one-on-one virtual sessions with children who need treatment for a myriad of conditions. Many of these children were unable to continue their in-person care, while others are new to behavioral health. Brightline’s specialists can address symptoms and behaviors triggered by COVID and the challenges of social isolation and uncertainty. The company’s evidence-based approach helps children learn coping skills, resiliency, and gives kids the tools to express their feelings more effectively.
As any parent can attest, a child’s health and well-being have a substantial impact on their OWN mental health and well-being. Brightline authentically understands the challenges parents face. For younger patients, Brightline also holds sessions with parents to give them tools to better manage and address behaviors like tantrums, depression, loneliness, and fear. The Brightline solution recognizes that pediatric behavioral health is a collaborative process, and transparency and explicit tracking of progress is critical to success.
Unique Team — Effective Meets Authentic
On a personal level, I am honored to work with such a talented group of people. Brightline has brought together veterans of digital health, top pediatric behavioral clinicians, and consumer technologists uniquely capable of building an end-to-end virtual solution to help kids and families. Brightline CEO and co-founder, Naomi Allen is an impressive digital health executive who has successfully scaled multiple companies, most recently as Chief Growth Officer at Livongo, another Threshold portfolio company. I am both excited by the opportunity in Brightline as an investor and consumer, as well as in making a personal connection with Naomi. Both of us are mothers to children with behavioral health challenges and have been frustrated by the existing processes and the lack of comprehensive solutions that empower parents and provide transparency around progress.
Health care is a very complicated ecosystem. Getting the right clinical executives and partners is critical for quality. Digital health solutions must understand the economics of delivering care and align incentives with payers or other key constituents to drive adoption. The Brightline team has the necessary experience and credentials. However, I invested because the company also has a soul. I have had the greatest success where the founding team understands the business proposition AND authentically understands the human side of the problem they are trying to solve. Brightline is building a solution for themselves and their loved ones, bringing much-needed empathy and soul into a market and at a time when these traits are desperately needed.
Today we face a life-threatening global crisis, but with vaccines and therapeutics, we will get back to some semblance of normalcy in time. However, the longer-term mental health consequences from this crisis, particularly on our most susceptible children, are yet to be fully understood. With so many factors outside of our control, Brightline is here today to provide convenient care virtually to help our children weather this storm.
Pandemics are stressful: fear and anxiety about a new disease, conflicting sources of information, lack of clarity around the future, and social isolation due to social distancing practices can lead to overwhelming emotions in both adults and children. In response, we have seen increased utilization and investment in mental health companies, but the vast majority of these companies’ solutions are only for adults.
If the kids are not alright, the parents are not alright. It is time to recognize that mental health is not solely about the individual. It is a family affair.