Whether you’ve tried and failed to find a therapist that’s covered by insurance or merely want some support for navigating a tricky relationship, the creators of a startup called Modern Health want to offer you a solution.
The company’s biggest aim is to prevent mental health crises before they start by providing services to everyone, regardless of whether they see themselves as necessarily depressed or anxious. Offerings range from meditation to in-person therapy sessions.
The startup just raised $9 million in a fundraising round led by Kleiner Perkins, Silicon Valley’s most well-known venture capital firm and an early backer of tech behemoths like Amazon and life science giants like Genentech.
Actor Jared Leto also invested, Modern Health exclusively told Business Insider on Thursday, along with Kristin Baker Spohn, the former chief commercial officer of healthcare startup Collective Health. Katrina Lake, the CEO of personal styling subscription service Stitch Fix, and Frederic Kerrest, the cofounder of cloud identity manager Okta, also joined the funding round.
The idea behind Modern Health is relatively simple: Everyone who uses it gets access to some kind of mental health support. People who need the most care get the most comprehensive services, while people who need occasional or minor support receive less-intense kinds of help, like simple courses they can complete on their smartphone. The overarching principle is that mental health occurs on a spectrum, and all of us need support at one point or another, according to the founders, Alyson Friedensohn and Erica Johnson.
“No matter who you are or what you’re going through, you’ll have access to mental health tools,” Friedensohn told Business Insider.
That guiding principle — that at some point, all of us need mental health support — distinguishes Modern Health from other companies in the mental and behavioral health arena. Where dozens of startups aim to help one specific population, Modern Health is geared at providing varying degrees of support to all.
‘Mental health is coming of age’
In tech hubs like Silicon Valley and New York City, the landscape of mental health startups is beginning to get competitive.
Apps like Headspace let people dive into guided meditations with the tap of an icon. Tools like Woebot let you text-message your way through research-backed anxiety-treatment modules. And services like Ginger or Spring Health guide people to a coach or therapist for conditions like depression.
But all of those services chiefly target people with specific mental health concerns, according to Friedensohn and Johnson. They say there’s a lack of resources to help people figure out what kind of care they need. As a result, a problem that starts small, like a stressful breakup, can quickly snowball into a crisis like a panic attack. If more solutions were offered earlier, perhaps those kinds of escalations could be prevented, the founders said.
“There’s no effective triage of mental health care,” Friedensohn said.
Modern Health aims to provide that kind of priority-driven treatment. It’s agnostic to the type of service someone might need and more concerned with connecting them to services in the first place.
Mamoon Hamid, a partner at Kleiner Perkins and the lead investor in the round, told Business Insider that he believes that kind of offering is what’s needed now. Hamid joined Modern Health’s board of directors on Thursday.
“Mental health is coming of age,” Hamid said. “It’s no longer something that’s fringe or just for specific people who really need help.”
If someone needs to see an in-person therapist, they can do so with Modern Health. To schedule an appointment, customers use the app to answer questions about their interests and location, and the app responds with a handful of options and available time slots. Or, if someone wants to simply work their way through a digital course aimed at improving their finances or helping them with relationships, they can do that too.
Regardless of what people choose, each offering is based on clinical research, the founders emphasized.
‘I had a front row seat to the exact problem we’re trying to solve’
Modern Health’s finance and relationships exercises, for example, are guided by the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy, an approach that’s widely seen by psychiatrists as the gold standard for treating depression and anxiety. Similarly, the therapists in Modern Health’s network are licensed and can work with patients either in person or by video.
Myra Altman, a licensed and practicing psychologist who formerly worked as an affiliate scholar at Stanford’s Clinical Excellence Research Center, leads Modern Health’s clinical efforts.
Founders Johnson and Friedensohn are well-equipped to design a mental health solution that could work for a wide array of people. Since starting Modern Health with the help of incubator Y Combinator in 2018, they’ve raised a total of $11.4 million. The company’s current clients include companies like Nextdoor, Gusto, and GitLab.
Friedensohn spent half a decade as a healthcare consultant and operations manager at companies ranging from PricewaterhouseCoopers to Silicon Valley startup Collective Health. Johnson has worked as a neuroscientist at UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco, and Stanford, and helped create the Brain Health Assessment, a screening tool that’s now used to detect and diagnose cognitive disorders in half a dozen countries.
The pair want to combine what they’ve learned in academia with what they’ve learned on the entrepreneurship scene to create something better.
“I had a front row seat to the exact problem we’re trying to solve, which is that no one’s addressing mental health on a holistic perspective,” Friedensohn said.