Venture to Say
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Venture to Say

Part 3: Mental Health Like Dental Health

By Brad Baum & Patrick Harmon Lopez

In Part 1, we talked about the often-ignored problem of mental health in our country. In Part 2, we dove into some of the key drivers of this problem. Now we’ll discuss how we think about mental health using a framework that we believe is essential to effectively addressing this growing issue.

Try this: tell a co-worker or friend that you’re going to see your therapist at 1pm next time they ask what you’ve got going on for the day. Observe their responses. Then tell another co-worker or friend you’ve got a dentist appointment at 1pm, see how they react. Our guess is that there are many more raised eyebrows, looks of concern and follow up questions to the trip to see your therapist. Why?

We use this example to illuminate that, we, as a society, focus so much time and money on preventative care for something as surface level as our teeth, yet this normalized attention to dental care is not at all mimicked when it comes to caring for arguably our most important organ, our brains. If anything, we should be considerably more concerned about our mental health compared to our dental health. Yellow teeth or a cavity won’t kill you…but neglected mental health issues very well may. Yet, dental health drives us to visit the dentist for “check-ups/cleaning” twice a year to avoid harm, while mental health simply does not…yet.

The point being: mental health should be dealt with preventatively, just like dental health is. This construct is well-exemplified and shared in the tweet below by Dallen Allred — CEO of Tava Health:

As opposed to only springing into action when we’re struggling, we should aim to care for our most precious organ preemptively. We have friends who’ve told us they start their morning by crying on their bathroom floor for 20 minutes before work due to stress. Brad’s twin brother is in law school at University of Michigan and one of his peers recently died by suicide. There are countless stories like these with virtually everyone being affected directly or indirectly in some way.

We believe we’re on the precipice of a major societal shift (not to be confused with a short-term trend) in terms of how mental health is viewed and treated. This shift before COVID had been driven by cultural figureheads such as musicians, celebrities, and athletes shining light on the importance of mental health and documenting their own personal struggles, which in turn gives their massive and diverse followings something to relate to (e.g., Kid Cudi, Justin Bieber, Sarah Silverman, Kanye West, Colin Wilson, Kevin Love, Dak Prescott, Kendall Jenner). Our friend Harry Stebbings of The Twenty Minute VC talks a lot about the importance of vulnerability in business; the best thing about vulnerability is that it is contagious and often begets more vulnerability, so this is a key piece of the puzzle.

COVID is a major catalyst that achieved buy-in around the importance of this issue not only at a cultural-level, but also at a professional level (we’ll discuss opportunities we see in corporate-sponsored employee wellness programs in Part 4). This recent combination of buy-in at the corporate level and at the societal/cultural level also depletes the stigma for the average individual, unlocking significant latent demand in the market.

As we discussed in part 2, stigma, shame, fear, etc. have kept people quiet about their suffering for a long time when it comes to addiction and mental health. As portrayed above, celebrities, politicians, business leaders, and many others have started talking about their struggles openly. When we share openly, our shame begins to deteriorate and when that happens, we can begin the imperative journey toward overcoming struggles. This increasing openness among society has led to mass stigma reduction and a willingness to not only talk, or seek help, but to build solutions around a very personal problem set. Consequently, entrepreneurs are arriving in droves to build in this space.

These powerful tailwinds pave the way for millions of people to feel comfortable seeking help. According to the laws laid out in Econ 101, increase in quantity demanded should push out supply. Thus, we’ll likely see continued rapid growth in the number of mental health-oriented startups geared toward attacking these issues on multiple fronts. The following quote underscores this major opportunity:

“Psychologist workforce projections highlight insufficient supply to meet unmet need for mental health services. Analyses commissioned by APA found that increasing supply narrows but does not eliminate this gap.”

A tangible problem with swelling demand and unmet supply is usually where you want to live as a venture investor. In the final installment we’ll talk about the size of this opportunity as well as different models we admire that are helping hack the supply side.

Part 4: The Antidote

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