Why the Headspace and Ginger Digital Mental Health Mega-Merger Isn’t Enough

Oliver Harrison
Publish Date

Earlier this week, mindfulness and meditation app Headspace announced a merger with telehealth and mental health coaching provider Ginger.

This is a tremendous moment signaling the growing market demand, innovation and transformation for digital mental health and wellbeing.

Even before the pandemic, the world was experiencing a growing tidal wave of mental health issues. Many mental health conditions can be effectively treated at a relatively low cost, yet there remains a substantial gap between people needing care and those who access it.

In the US alone, about 1 in 4 adults suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year[1], and people were 3 times more likely to screen positive for anxiety disorders in 2020 compared with 2019.[2] Two of the most common mental health conditions, anxiety and depression, cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year between treatment costs and underlying costs such as presenteeism, absenteeism, lost productivity and employee turnover. Despite these figures, the global median of government health expenditure that goes to mental health is less than 2%.[3]

The fact is, the spectrum of mental healthcare needs – from healthcare systems and providers to health plans and employer-provided benefits – requires an incredibly broad range of solutions. This announcement and mega-merger have drawn a pointed arrow at a global public health crisis that Koa Health is on a mission to solve – mental wellbeing for everyone.

While provider expertise and experience cannot directly be replaced, we are operating with overwhelmed and increasingly complex healthcare systems, and they cannot triumph alone.

Koa Health is redefining mental healthcare support for providers, health plans and employers.

According to a recent survey of more than 49,000 global participants, more than 50% of individuals with a clinical-level mental problem do not seek professional help. The primary reason respondents offered for not seeking professional help for a clinical disorder was a preference for self-help (36%), where people said they preferred to manage their challenges on their own or didn’t think they needed any mental health treatment.

While accessibility to digital mental wellbeing is on the rise as a whole, the challenge for consumers is distinguishing between the apps that can offer measurable support from those that provide little more than a temporary distraction.

Koa Health’s range of mobile-first solutions - from cognitive behavioral therapy-based self-help to provider-supported and monitored programs - provide a comprehensive, evidence-backed digital extension to help providers, health plans and employers deliver end-to-end mental health and wellbeing.

Innovation is our priority and is part of our DNA being born from Telefonica’s famed European “moonshot factory,” Alpha. At Koa Health, we have long understood the need for mental healthcare disruption and favor investments in R&D and white-glove delivery.

While we applaud the momentum this merger brings to the industry, we know there is still work to be done. The dirty secret of digital health is that it often isn’t that digital, and the gap between available clinicians and demand for mental health services, in addition to accessibility issues for marginalized populations, is still staggering.[4]

Earlier this year, the New York Times reported that mental telehealth providers were experiencing a five-fold increase in demand, and patients are experiencing wait times up to 10 months to receive counseling.[5] Recent reports indicated telemedicine visits were up 3,400% for members diagnosed with bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, and other conditions, but total utilization was still down compared to the previous year.[6]

Consolidation won’t resolve the drastic need for digital-first, evidence-based care. Leading workforce analyst Josh Bersin warned of market consolidation, “Bigger companies with thousands of customers try to innovate, but the demands of their large, existing customers distract their engineering teams and they can rarely innovate like they did when they were small.”

Our clients at Koa Health don't only want to offer our solutions, they also want to evolve their culture around mental health – destigmatizing the issue, normalizing communication and providing inclusive pathways to treatment. So, with our hands-on approach, we empower our customers and our end-users to achieve the outcomes that matter most to them through strategic guidance from a team of global experts with deep clinical expertise.

Our team of researchers, data scientists, clinicians and engineers collaborate with leading institutions such as Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Health, Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust. Additionally, Koa Health’s solutions are backed by a scientific advisory board of top academics and innovators, chaired by Tom Insel, M.D., renowned neuroscientist, psychiatrist and former director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). You can learn more about our approach and cutting-edge research here.

Today, we at Koa Health celebrate how Headspace and Ginger have furthered the sense of urgency around mental health and we eagerly join in on trailblazing the way toward a happier, healthier world. Discover how you can join our mission to deliver mental wellbeing for everyone.

Additional sources:

[1] John Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/mental-health-disorder-statistics

[2] ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/Health/depression-rates-tripled-pandemic-study/story?id=72724832

[3] World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/health-topics/mental-health#tab=tab_1

[4] Time Magazine. https://time.com/6071580/teletheraphy-mental-health/

[5] New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/17/well/mind/therapy-appointments-shortages-pandemic.html

[6] Med City News. https://medcitynews.com/2020/11/telehealth-alone-not-enough-to-offset-crushing-demand-for-mental-health-services/

about the author

Oliver Harrison

Chief Executive Officer @ Koa Health

Oliver trained as a medical doctor at Cambridge and UCL and practiced for six years in psychiatry before dedicating his career to digital mental health. He spent five years in McKinsey's Health Tech practice and the last 15 years designing and building scalable health tech solutions.