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Mental health coaching startup Ginger raises $50M

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Ginger, a digital health startup that lets users chat with a mental health coach, raised $50 million in funding in a series D round. Advance Venture Partners and Bessemer Venture Partners led the funding round, with participation from Cigna Ventures, Kaiser Permanente Ventures, and LinkedIn Executive Chairman Jeff Weiner.

David ibnAle, a founding partner with Advance Venture Partners, and Steve Kraus, a partner with Bessemer Venture Partners, will both join Ginger’s board. To date, the company has raised $120 million.

The San Francisco-based startup connects users with coaches through a text-based chat. They can’t provide the same services as a therapist, but they can send users exercises and encourage them to pursue good sleeping habits and meditation, for example.

For patients who would benefit from more care, Ginger can connect them to a video chat with a healthcare provider. The company contracts with psychiatrists and therapists that then work with its coaches.

Like many telehealth startups, Ginger has seen a surge in visits since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the first week of July, it saw a 125% increase in use of its coaching service compared to its averages before the pandemic.

“The goal of this system is to solve for the supply-demand imbalance that exists in mental health,” Ginger CEO Russell Glass said in a phone interview. “Even pre-Covid, there are far more people that have a need that can access it today. It can take weeks to months.”

The service is currently only available to users whose employer or health plan include Ginger as a covered benefit. The company says it has 200 clients, including Delta Air Lines, Sanofi and Chegg. Its insurance partnerships include Optum Behavioral Health, Anthem California and Aetna Resources for Living.

Ginger was initially created in 2011 by two MIT researchers, Anmol Madan and Karan Singh, who started off with the idea of using cell phone activity to predict users’ mental health. For example, if someone was depressed, they might not communicate with others like they normally do, or their daily patterns of going to the work, the gym or the grocery store might change. Novant Health, Kaiser Permanente and 20 other health systems partnered on this early concept.

Since then, the company has pivoted to focus more on providing health coaching and therapy services.  It still uses information “for proprietary analysis and development of personalized behavioral profiles,” according to its privacy policy.

Ginger is one of a number of startups providing mental health services using digital tools. Competitor Lyra Health raised $75 million  earlier this year, and struck a partnership with Starbucks. And UnitedHealth’s Optum subsidiary was reportedly planning to acquire mental health startup AbleTo for $470 million.

Photo credit: Microne, Getty Images

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FITNESS

Jada Sezer on Looking After Mental Health Post Lockdown

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POPSUGAR UK columnist Jada Sezer, is the definition of a multi-hyphenate. The British model and social media influencer is also an actor, content creator, writer, and equality advocate — with a master’s degree in child psychology and over 290K followers on Instagram, a platform she uses to inspire, empower, and talk about important issues such as gender, sexuality, body positivity, mental health, and child well-being. Sezer runs marathons — in her underwear no less — hosts podcasts, poses for top brands like Adidas, Mango, and L’Oréal, works with UN Women UK as an ambassador, and, most recently, launched a YouTube docuseries titled Instant Fame. Ahead, she shares how she’s looking after her mental health whilst adjusting to the new “normal”, as lockdown restrictions ease around the UK amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

As the world starts to open up during the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown rules loosen, so will your behaviour. It’s easy to slip back into your old routine — the returning to the long slog to and from work, running on nothing but coffee all day. But I personally refuse to go back to the old way I ran my life. Here are some important new habits I’ve picked up before in an effort to take care of my mental health but have now reformed and made a priority to practice fully as I step back into the soon-to-be fast-paced world again.

1. Connecting with the people I love more often.

This pandemic has shown me how fragile life is, which has led to more intimate conversations and closeness with my friends and family. Taking the time to fully invest in deeper, more meaningful relationships with people you love and trust will give you a greater sense of security that lots of surface-level friendships won’t. Having a strong support network who can offer trusted advice helps you to thrive in a world where so much is uncertain.

2. Reclaiming a work/life balance.

Many of our productivity levels rose whilst working from home because we could make lunch instead of wasting time wandering to the local supermarkets. We weren’t tired from the long commute, and if we wanted a quick midday siesta or wait in for a parcel, we could! As most of the world ground to halt, many of us clocked off at 6 p.m., and the weekends were ours. For many of us, our overall quality of life increased because it hasn’t felt like Groundhog Day, all day every day. We had Friday nights for Zoom catchups or takeaways, and then a full rest and reset on Sunday. This much-needed variation has allowed me to show up and dedicate my full attention rather than being half-hearted or feeling rushed or tired.

3. Falling in love with the simple moments.

Whether it’s been cooking your favourite dish, or having a cinema night under the duvet, we’ve all spent much more time at home and have a new found appreciation as our homes quickly became our safe bubble. I, for one, have grown my own crops and transformed my small little outdoor concrete patio into a slice of heaven — my little safe haven. In this safe zone the simple moments held an even more powerful sense of appreciation. When you put love, time, attention, and energy into something, you can definitely feel it.

4. Maintaining boundaries.

People know this is my favourite word because its sets the tone for most things going forward, including how you want to return back into the world. Delivering a clear “no” when the world starts opening back up and as more duties fall into your lap will allow you to manage and maintain control of your life without feeling too overwhelmed of burned out before doing so.

5. Walking in nature.

My daily walks were my special, sacred one hour a day that I valued so much. When you’re not absentmindedly walking past the world in a rush to the next destination but rather stretching it out because you don’t want to return home quite yet, it gives you the chance to really soak in nature and your surroundings. It also provided me with a sense of calm and perspective, that even in a pandemic the trees will grow and life goes on.

6. Supporting my local community.

As travel wasn’t permitted and cooking at home increased, my local grocery store saw me more then my own family. Not only did we build an affiliation but equally I was also putting my pennies into independent stores that are on the brink of extinction from the giant conglomerates. Win-win. Shopping locally, I also discovered new shops in my area which I would have walked past before. As the lockdown eases and we start to shop again, take time to explore and vote with your money.

7. Keeping Up With Hobbies.

During lockdown, I fell back in love with art, painting, and sketching. I created care packages with carefully crafted cards of joy for all of my friends. Drawing was my escape and a hobby that I didn’t make time for before, but it’s meditative and gets you out of your head (not to mention helps time fly!). Having a hobby and blocking out structured time for it also helps maintain that ever elusive work/life balance.

8. Taking stock.

It’s easy to be busy for busies sake, but do we ever stop to think, ‘Is this really what I want to be doing?’ For me, hitting pause allowed for a long moment of clarity and a chance to refocus on my goal and my purpose. This reset time allowed me to reassess where I am going and if there are any changes I want to make with my current situation. This is a practice that is especially hard to do when you have a packed schedule and constant distractions but one I will carve out time for regularly in the future, so that I am wisely focused.

9. Letting go.

We have all grieved during this pandemic, whether for a loved one or a life we once knew. The pandemic has swept us off our feet, and there’s nothing we could really do about it. Letting go allowed me to accept and lean into the uncomfortableness of the unknown, which then let there be space for something new to enter. For example, instead of worrying when I would work next, I rolled with the tides because that’s all I could do.

10. Honouring your needs.

This sounds obvious but the pandemic, and the resulting virus, has shown us more than ever that our bodies — and in turn, our responses — are considerably different from person to person. This also means we will all be responding to reentering back differently, too. Feelings of guilt, pressure, angst, and fear may be true for you yet not for others, this is fine. We have just spent nearly four months in lockdown — this new lifestyle will take time readjust to.

Image Source: Jada Sezer



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FITNESS

Free Mental Health Services and Resources in the UK

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Free Online Therapy

Caring for your mental health has never been more important than it is right now, in a year where most people have experienced multiple psychological traumas at once. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our daily lives in immeasurable ways, and the fight for racial equality, which has led to widespread protests in almost every major city in the UK and around the world, has definitely taken its toll. There’s a lot going on, to say the least, and we understand that this year has been a tough one.

Thankfully, there are plenty of free mental health services and resources you can utilise today, if you need the extra support. There are a few different ways you can seek support, both for ongoing mental health support and for urgent care.

The list of mental health services ahead are a compilation of crisis helplines, live-chat services, and helpful online resources; however, if you’re seeking long-term support, teletherapy is the way to go. Adrienne Meier, PhD, and other therapists POPSUGAR has spoken to, do not consider crisis hotline services to be the same thing as teletherapy. Teletherapy is therapy sessions administered through phone calls or video sessions from a licensed professional. The same goes for messaging with a therapist on an app. It’s therapeutic, sure, and can absolutely be beneficial, but it’s not considered therapy in their eyes.

“If someone calls the hotline, we can provide them with support and listen and provide them with concrete coping skills to assist them in whatever mental health issue or crisis they’re experiencing,” Dr. Meier said. “It can still be really helpful to whoever’s calling in. It’s just a different type of help than we would perhaps offer in an ongoing therapy relationship.” Licensed mental health counsellor Sheina Schochet agreed. “It’s considered more of a one-time therapeutic consult as opposed to consistent therapy because you’re not getting the same therapist [each time] necessarily, and it doesn’t follow a consistent treatment plan.”

Ahead, see 10 free mental health resources that are available in the UK right now.

The NHS Urgent Mental Health Helpline

The NHS Urgent Mental Health Helpline service is a short, online quiz that helps you find the best mental health support in your area.

Every Mind Matters

Every Mind Matters is the NHS’s mental health initiative, which offers long-term support to those who need it. The first step is filling out the five-question quiz on the website, and from there, you’ll have a telephone consultation to determine the type of help you need. For example, some people may receive online resources for cognitive behavioural therapy to help combat anxiety, and others will receive a number of appointments with a clinical psychologist via video calls. Because this is a service offered by the NHS, it is extremely comprehensive and reliable. If you require urgent support, there are a number of recommendations on the Every Mind Matters website.

Mind Out

A mental health service designed to specifically support members of the LGBTQ+ community, Mind Out has an online instant messaging service that is completely anonymous and 100 percent judgement-free. Mind Out also offers peer mentoring programs and support groups to help you speak to people who have been exactly where you are.

ChildLine

ChildLine is a service for under 19-year-olds in the UK, offering a plethora of digital resources, including a “calm zone” and a detailed explanation of domestic violence, plus a step-by-step on creating a safety plan in these situations. Additionally, ChildLine has a portal for reporting underage nude photos, if you’re under 18 years old and learn that someone has shared a naked photo of you online, so they can be removed. You will be fully supported through this process by ChildLine.

Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM)

CALM is a general mental health service that’s endorsed on the NHS’s Every Mind Matters website, so you can count on the fact that the information it provides is extremely reliable and up to date. The hotline and web-chat services are open between 5 p.m. and midnight every single day of the year, but if you require urgent help outside these hours, CALM suggests calling the Samaritans or 999. According to the website, CALM is experiencing a higher volume of calls and web chats than usual, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so there might be longer waits to speak to a professional. However, the CALM website also has an in-built search engine where you can search for support services that pertain to a specific concern.

Samaritans

Samaritans is one of the leading mental health services in the UK for people requiring advice. There are many ways to seek help with Samaritans, including by phone, email, handwritten letter (for nonurgent assistance), and the self-help app. The app is a fully self-guided process, where you can track your symptoms, create a safety plan to employ in times of crisis, and there is a catalogue of techniques so you can try to help self-manage your mental health at home. Due to the coronavirus outbreak in the UK, Samaritans have temporarily stopped their face-to-face appointments.

YoungMinds Crisis Messenger

YoungMinds is a support service with young people and their parents in mind. The YoungMinds Crisis Messenger is a free text service designed to provide emotional support for young people, whether it’s for a specific problem like bullying, coping with grief, or suicidal thoughts, or if you’ve noticed that you’re not quite feeling like yourself.

Mind Infoline

Mind is an online and telephone resource that doesn’t offer counselling but rather provides a safe space to anonymously discuss your mental health concerns. Mind will also help you find reliable information on where you can get help and discuss possible treatment options for long-term mental health solutions.

The Mix

A free mental health service for people under 25 years old, The Mix offers a range of short-term support options for getting help without ever leaving your home. Unlike many of the other resources mentioned above, The Mix has a telephone counselling option for under 25s and a one-to-one online chat service for 10- to 18-year-olds. Additionally, there is a crisis management text service that is free and available 24 hours per day, seven days a week.

Victim Support

Victim Support is a free service for children, young people, and their parents to help support children who’ve been affected by crime. In addition to a catalogue of written resources, there is also a virtual courtroom to help your child understand what to expect if they are going to be a witness in court; plus, there’s an interactive “Journey to Justice” tool that educates young people on what happens when a crime is reported and how decisions are made within the justice system. The Victim Support website also has information about local support teams, national phone helplines, and a live chat.

Additional reporting by Samantha Brodsky



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NEWS

Addressing maternal mental health issues during Covid-19 and beyond

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women's health

Pregnancy is always a time of heightened anxiety, but in the age of global pandemic, women are facing unprecedented stressors. Between 10-20% of women experience postpartum depression/anxiety, and for up to 30% of women, symptoms can actually begin during the pregnancy. Perinatal mood disorders have been associated with worse maternal and neonatal outcomes such as increased rates of preterm birth, decreased rates of breastfeeding, impaired infant bonding, and abnormal infant and child development – many of which come with steeper costs.

Certain risk factors for postpartum mood disorders may be exacerbated by the current pandemic including fear of childbirth, poor social and financial support, stressful life events, and adverse pregnancy outcomes. Additionally, recommended coping techniques including reaching out to family and friends for support, getting out of the house, making time for oneself, and exercising may be difficult to accomplish due to social distancing requirements and stay at home orders. Current treatment and counseling resources may also be more limited than in normal times.

The human and economic costs of untreated maternal mental health issues are meaningful, and these outcomes only stand to be intensified by the added stressors of Covid-19 – concerns about the way the virus will impact prenatal care, hospitals continuing to change their visitation policies, and so many unknowns surrounding the impact of the virus on pregnant women and babies. For some women, higher risks of intimate partner violence compound this situation. With these increased stressors, there is cause for concern that maternal mental health could emerge as a secondary public health crisis, the scope of which we may not realize for years to come.

Adjusting to a new normal for prenatal care
Prenatal care has been transformed in recent months due to the pandemic. While some of these changes, like embracing telemedicine for routine prenatal appointments, are arguably for the better, this certainly provokes anxiety for many women who had a set plan for how their pregnancy and prenatal care would look.

Studies have shown that telemedicine appointments are safe for routine prenatal appointments that don’t require ultrasound, lab work or cervical checks, especially for low-risk pregnancies. A medical study showed that a hybrid of in-person and videoconference prenatal visits for low-risk obstetric patients had similar pregnancy outcomes to the traditional in person visits. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) and the Society of Maternal Fetal Medicine have also recommended decreasing the number of ultrasounds to lessen the possible risk of transmission of COVID-19. Patients are now screened for the infection prior to appointments, and visitors are often not allowed in with them even for long-awaited ultrasounds.

Decreased access to typical in-person providers can also lead to increased anxiety for many women. For some patients, this may happen if their in-person provider is called to be a laborist on labor and delivery and for others it could be because their provider themselves is ill with Covid-19. Other women are not yet as comfortable with virtual appointments. Meanwhile other expectant mothers in areas more highly affected by Covid-19 are reluctant to even come into the office for necessary in-person appointments as they fear contracting the virus and what that could mean for their pregnancy. This is problematic, as inconsistent prenatal care has been linked to adverse pregnancy outcomes including low birth weight, preterm labor, and stillbirth. Providers should be aware of these concerns, reassure patients of all of the measures being taken to prevent the spread of infection during in person appointments, and take time to explain to patients the reasoning behind the use of telemedicine for routine appointments.

Concerns about Covid-19’s impact on health outcomes
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, has only been in circulation since late November/early December, and not much is known about how this virus affects pregnant women and their unborn children. Early studies have shown that pregnant women are not at higher risk for contracting the virus and do not have a worsened clinical course. However, based on the immunologic changes of pregnancy and observations from other respiratory viruses including influenza, SARS, and MERS, it is possible that pregnant women are at increased risk of developing severe pneumonia from SARS-CoV-2. Initial case series also showed no vertical (mother to baby) transmission, but recent evidence shows that it may be possible, with one case study showing an infant born with positive antibodies to the virus. SARS and MERS, also coronaviruses, were associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes including preterm labor, intrauterine growth restriction, increased risk of NICU admissions, increased risk of miscarriage, and stillbirth.

While it is unclear whether or not Covid-19 infections are associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes (a large trial including infected pregnant women is ongoing), obstetricians are seeing an uptick in second and third-trimester pregnancy losses, and a case study was recently reported in the literature of a second-trimester pregnancy loss caused by a placental infection with SARS-CoV-2 infection. There are still so many unknowns, and it’s this uncertainty that is driving increased anxiety and impacting mental health overall.

Shifting birth plans and adapting to changing hospital policies
Many women have been forced to reevaluate their birth plans, for fear of contracting the virus while in the hospital, as well as concerns about delivering alone due to changing hospital visitation policies. Early on in New York, some hospitals stopped allowing visitors altogether. Thankfully most hospitals are now allowing a single visitor for laboring women, with only a few requiring the support person to leave after delivery. Some hospitals are screening for Covid-19 infection with temperature and symptoms checks while others are choosing to test all pregnant women and their partners. If a support person screens or tests positive, he or she will not be allowed in the delivery room, while if a laboring woman screens or tests positive, the recommendation is separation from the baby after birth to prevent neonatal infection. Women who are fearful of delivering alone or being separated from their baby have sometimes chosen to deliver at an alternate hospital or have not truthfully disclosed when they or their partner have experienced symptoms of coronavirus infection, which can put medical personnel at risk.

Intimate partner violence
For far too many women, the trauma of intimate partner violence intensifies mental health conditions. Intimate partner violence is more common during pregnancy than when a woman is not pregnant, with approximately 324,000 pregnant women in the United States experiencing abuse each year. Often abuse starts for the first time when a woman becomes pregnant. With increased social isolation and fear of coronavirus infection, experts have cause for concern that intimate partner violence is increasing during Covid-19 stay at home orders, as it has during previous pandemics and other natural disasters. Many women are afraid to report abuse to begin with, and with safety nets breaking down, schools closed, and fewer in-person medical appointments, the risks are heightened. Joblessness and financial strain as well as multiple people in a household spending large amounts of time quarantined together increases tension that can lead to increased violence.

Empowering providers with solutions
As the pandemic continues, we as the medical community can take steps to ensure we’re effectively identifying and treating mental health issues, and helping women during this unprecedented time:

  1. Screening – ACOG recommends screening all women during pregnancy for mood disorders and performing comprehensive screening for postpartum depression at the postpartum visit. It is imperative that all pregnant and postpartum women continue to be screened for postpartum depression and mood disorders even when appointments occur virtually and that appropriate resources are available for treatment of mental health disorders. ACOG also recommends screening every woman for intimate partner violence at the first prenatal visit, at least once per trimester, and postpartum. However, during this pandemic increased screening may be warranted.
  2. Referring – Obstetric providers should be referring patients appropriately when screening is positive. A list of mental health providers, intimate partner violence counselors, and shelters in each provider’s area should be readily available, and each provider should be aware of how referrals are being handled during the pandemic.
  3. Listening – Obstetric providers should make time to talk to women at each prenatal appointment, whether in person or remote, about specific concerns or anxieties that they have around the pandemic and be ready to address those concerns. Providers should discuss birth plans with women as due dates near, and discuss new changes in hospital policies surrounding visitors, masks, and COVID-19 testing at the same time reassuring patients that they will be well cared for.
  4. Embracing Telemedicine and Other Virtual Platforms – Newer telemedicine platforms are available to fill in the gaps in between visits and are increasingly covered as a benefit by employers. These can provide mental health counseling, mental health prescriptions, and obstetric education by nurse midwives and obstetricians as well as subspecialists. Some also have a variety of provider types including pediatricians, lactation consultants, physical therapists, and back to work coaches. During the birth, video platforms should be offered to allow additional people (including a doula) to be virtually present in the delivery room if the patient chooses.

Now more than ever, women and families need comprehensive care that supports both physical and mental health. By utilizing all available resources, and tapping into what we know about how best to screen and treat maternal mental health issues, we can help mitigate the risks and preserve the care of our women and families – during the pandemic and beyond.

Photo: damircudic, Getty Images

 

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Funding roundup: Mental health startup led by former Uber exec gets $100 million

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Telehealth once again captured investors’ attention this week when Amwell raised a large funding round.

The Boston-based company raised $194 million from previous investor Allianz X and drugmaker Takeda.

Though Amwell had been talking to investors well before the Covid-19 pandemic started, the telehealth company and its competitors have seen a surge of visits as a result. For its part, Amwell said it had been seeing up to 5,000 visits per day since the pandemic started.

Other digital health companies have seen a boost as a result. Read more about the companies that raised funding this week:

 

Mindstrong

Amount raised $100 million

Headquarters: Mountain View, Calif.

The Covid-19 pandemic has put behavioral health into the spotlight, as worries about health and job security have come to the forefront. Many digital health startups in this space focus on mindfulness and other general wellness goals, but Mindstrong has a bit of a different approach.

The company focuses on providing virtual care to people living with a serious mental illness, such as bipolar disorder or major depression. Through its app, it connects users to therapists, psychiatrists and care coordinators.

Mindstrong also said it is developing a technology that patients can use to monitor their symptoms based on their smartphone usage, such as how they type of scroll on their phone.  The company conducted a study with a ketamine clinic to determine which smartphone features would be the best predictors of a user’s mood. But, as noted by STAT, little data is available to the public.

Still, the company has a strong roster of backers. General Catalyst, ARCH Venture Partners, Foresite Capital, 8VC, Optum Ventures and What If Ventures participated in its series C round.

Mindstrong also recently named a new CEO, bringing in Uber’s former product head Daniel Graf to lead the company.

“Mindstrong has clinically demonstrated that it can deliver health assurance to people who suffer from serious mental illness in a cost-effective manner,” General Catalyst Managing Director Hemant Taneja said in a news release. “I am excited to see Daniel and team scale the Mindstrong service with this capital to make a meaningful difference for this significant yet underserved population in our society.”

 

Rapid Micro Biosystems

Amount raised: $120 million

Headquarters: Lowell, Massachusetts

While much of the attention may be on finding a treatment for Covid-19, in the background, dozens of companies are working to make sure drugs are produced in a safe and efficient manner. One of them is Rapid Micro Biosystems, a company working to automate quality control to ensure products aren’t contaminated with bacteria, mold or fungi during the manufacturing process.

The Massachusetts-based company raised $120 million in funding, led by Hong Kong-based Ally Bridge. Geneva-based Endeavour Vision, Bain Capital Life Sciences and Longitude Capital also participated in the funding round.

Rapid Micro Biosystems plans to use the funds to support its commercial expansion in the U.S., Europa and Asia. It will also invest some of the funds into product development, including a rapid sterility test for the final release of products that it has been developing with the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).

 

Holmusk

Amount raised: $21.5 million

Headquarters: Singapore, New York City

Health data analytics company Holmusk raised $21.5 million in funding led by Optum Ventures and Health Catalyst Capital. The startup is building a behavioral health analytics platform. Holmusk said it is combining mental health data with chronic conditions to help support the best treatment decisions for patients.

“Our team is encouraged by Holmusk’s evidence-based approach to improving care for people suffering from behavioral health disorders, and we look forward to working closely with the Holmusk team to support the next phase of growth” Optum Ventures Senior Principal Dr. Vijay Barathan said in a news release.

The startup acquired behavioral health EHR MindLinc from Duke University School of Medicine in 2016, giving it more than 20 years of longitudinal health data. With the new funding, Holmusk plans to expand its offices in New York.

Photo credit: Abscent84, Getty Images

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WEIGHT LOSS

Lily Collins Mental Health Awareness Week Instagram Post

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Lily Collins (Photo by Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage) *** Local Caption ***

On Wednesday, Lily Collins opened up in a candid Instagram post about her mental health during her late teens and 20s. In honour of Mental Health Awareness Week, the actor looked back 14 years ago, at her teenage self, and reflected on her struggles in hopes that it’ll give her fans comfort and encouragement.

Lily posted a photo of herself at the Teen Vogue Young Hollywood party back in 2006 (when she was just 16), along with the caption, “On the surface, this was a happy, confident girl. On the inside, I was struggling with so much insecurity and doubt within myself.” She continued, “At this age throughout my late teens and into my twenties, it felt really difficult to speak out about my internal struggles — with family, with relationships, eating disorders and overall uncertainty.”

She added that the topic of mental health should never be taboo and wishes she could tell her younger self that “we’re never alone.” She also encouraged fans to lean on good friends and family, and focus on the positives, noting that this is especially important right now with lockdown still predominantly in place. Lily ended her candid post with a hopeful message, “But let’s give ourselves and each other a little boost of encouragement this week and everyday moving forward and try our hardest not to judge one another too harshly. Self care is not selfish. It’s self love.”

Fans were quick to comment and thank Lily for her honesty: “thank you for sharing this ❤️ this is exactly what i needed to read right now.” Director, Charlie McDowell (who Lily has been dating since last summer) also commented on the post: “What a beautiful human you are. Inside and out.”



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Covid-19 worries cause companies to seek mental health tools

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Fears about a loved one getting sick. Worries about finances.The stress of being stuck inside.  As the Covid-19 pandemic rages on outside, more people are experiencing these emotions, and it’s taking its own toll on their health.

The Disaster Distress Helpline, a federal crisis hotline operated by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, has seen a spike in calls of more than 300% since February. Compared to March of last year, the hotline has seen 891% more calls, according to CNN.

Companies, seeing the toll on their employees, have also been looking for ways to boost their mental health benefits. Most private insurers have expanded their telehealth coverage, allowing members to access visits with a therapist through telehealth — sometimes with no co-pay. Other companies have turned to digital health services to help fill in the gaps.

After an internal survey showed 36% of its employees were reporting mental health issues during this time, Salesforce began offering its employees virtual workouts and meditations, and announced it wouldn’t cut any staff for the next three months.

Starting in April, Starbucks began offering 20 free therapy sessions each year for its employees and their families, through a partnership with mental health startup Lyra Health.

Another mental health platform, Supportiv, said it had seen increased interest from employers. The company, which connects users to moderated peer support groups, recently brought on Walmart as a client and is working with other Fortune 50 companies,

“We’ve had no lack of interest among health plans,” Co-founder and CEO Helena Plater-Zyberk said in a phone interview. “In the past year that interest has intensified and urgency has intensified. We’re getting a lot of inquiries on how fast we can mobilize to serve new populations.”

The program isn’t therapy, but is instead modeled after peer support groups. Because it sounds less clinical — it doesn’t specifically ask users about a diagnosed mental health condition — the platform has been able to bring in users that have never gone to therapy. 58% of its users are male, Plater-Zyberk said.

Supportiv’s users are sorted into groups focused on a common topic, such as loneliness or relationships. Since the beginning of March, the platform has seen a spike in topics related to Covid-19, including concerns about chronic conditions, caregiving, job security and being separated from their families and friends.

“Hopelessness and helplessness are two words that keep coming up,” Plater-Zyberk said. “I see a lot of concerns about existing health conditions. People who have chronic conditions are extremely worried that their care will be curtailed. That’s causing an extreme amount of stress.”

Some of these issues, such as health or caregiving concerns, might not be topics that people associate with therapy. Dr. Doreen Marshall, vice president of programs for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said people might seek help just in handling disruption to their everyday lives. For example, trying to balance work while having kids home from school.

“Reaching out for those reasons right now is vitally important,” she said. “I don’t think someone has to have a mental health concern to reach out right now. Even if it’s just, I’m having a hard time navigating day-to-day life right now. We don’t want folks to sit back and say, ‘I’m not struggling enough.’”

Other digital health tools that are focused on helping patients with chronic conditions have built out their mental health resources after getting feedback from clients. AbleTo, which offers eight-week virtual therapy programs for patients with heart failure and other health conditions, has seen a  25% uptick in the number of people using its services.

“The folks we interact with are the ones who have been told they are at higher risk if they have the coronavirus,” said Dr. Reena Pande, a trained cardiologist and AbleTo’s CMO. “It’s a group that is particularly anxious and fearful given the situation.”

AbleTo currently works with nine different insurers, including Medicare and Medicaid, accounting for more than 20 million covered lives. Pande said her company had seen a number of incoming requests from clients and partners to find ways to expand the scope of their mental health services.

“We’re broadening the hours of our existing therapists and recruiting new providers,” Pande said. “We’re thinking of all the ways we can make sure we’re shoring up our capabilities.”

Omada Health, which primarily serves patients with type 2 diabetes and hypertension, retooled its behavioral health programs after receiving requests from employers. CEO Sean Duffy said the company saw a tenfold increase in requests for mental health support from the company’s participant base.

“The moment Covid started to really capture popular attention in the U.S., we had an immediate influx of asks from our participants for support in mental health,” Duffy said in a phone interview. “Employers and health plans really need depression and anxiety solutions right now. We’re making sure we’re appropriately adapting with the changing times.”

Most of Omada’s services involve chat-based interactions with a health coach. The company began offering its mental health program to employers for free. So far, it has been well received, with more than 50 companies making inquiries in the last day.

Duffy said the company is planning out future iterations. For example, what support will employees need later in the year, as pockets of the country start to reopen?

“It’s not going to be the same,” he said. “The way we reemerge into the physical world is going to be different.”

The national crisis line can be reached at 800-273-TALK (8255).

Photo credit: Microne, Getty Images

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HEALTH

Are Hobbies Good For Your Mental Health?

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Close up on woman's hands knitting

On New Year’s Eve, I was scrolling on Twitter and came across a post that was blowing up. “I feel like my generation lost hobbies,” wrote Kashia Dunner, a business strategy consultant and coach. “Everything doesn’t have to be a hustle, side hustle, or money making enterprise. Sometimes it’s just fun to do something because it brings you joy, peace, relaxation, or allows you to be creative. Let’s rediscover hobbies in 2020.” Her statement was enough to make my thumb pause — which is saying something, because I was neck-deep in a mindless scroll hole.

It made me pause because it’s true; at least for me, a child-free millennial who lives in a big city (London) and works full time. I realised I didn’t feel like I engaged in activities that I like simply because they make me feel good. I’m an introvert, and still, I like to keep my brain a busy place. When I saw Dunner’s post on Twitter, I took stock of my daily habits and realised that when I’m not listening to a podcast while commuting to or from work, I’m reading on my Kindle or watching Netflix while simultaneously scanning social media. Like I said, I keep my brain busy.

“When we’ve had a rough day, or are going through some kind of a mental health difficulty like depression, having something reliable to go back to can also be helpful.”

I had to know: was all of this stimulation doing me harm, and should I get a damn hobby? To get to the bottom of it, I did two things. I decided to take up knitting, because it’s something I’d wanted to try for a while. I also figured that since it’s an offline activity, it has to be better for me than scrolling. I also set up a call with Dr. Janina Scarlet, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of Super-Women: Superhero Therapy for Women Battling Depression, Anxiety & Trauma, to find out whether picking up a hobby, like knitting, would be good for my mental health.

In short, Dr. Scarlet confirmed what I thought: yes, taking up a new hobby would probably have a beneficial impact on my mental health. “Our brains are, in general, more stimulated when we’re learning a new task,” she told me. “We can actually receive a little dopamine boost when learning something new, which can improve our mood.”

She also explained that doing something familiar and comforting is very important, especially when we’re going through a hard time. “When we’ve had a rough day, or are going through some kind of a mental health difficulty like depression, having something reliable to go back to can also be helpful.” That applies to anything from curling up with a good book to watching a movie you’ve already seen a thousand times or playing a video game.

Dr. Scarlet said a hobby’s value has nothing to do with whether it’s offline or online. In fact, she believes the criticism some people face for enjoying time alone indoors or for having online hobbies such as playing video games is unfair. “It’s important for people to do the kind of activities that they find joyful, and it’s important we give ourselves the permission to engage in the kind of activities that are restorative for us,” she said. “There’s research showing it’s not so much about the activity, or even the medium of the activity you’re engaging in, but how connected we are to it. So if we’re mindful, if we’re fully engaged — whether it’s an online game, whether we’re alone, or with people — it can have really wonderful psychological, and maybe physiological, effects.”

“It’s not so much about the activity, or even the medium of the activity you’re engaging in, but how connected we are to it.”

That means, when it comes to mindlessly scrolling social media, the issue isn’t necessarily with the social media itself, but the fact that it’s consumed mindlessly most of the time, and that often replaces other activities that bring us joy. “In my experience, the mindless scrolling seems to have a negative impact on an individual as opposed to mindfully scrolling through certain art pieces or, for example, playing a game with other people online.”

According to Dr. Scarlet, I actually wasn’t doing too badly when it came to engaging in a hobby that brings me joy. I obsessively read — I just took a quick headcount in my Kindle library and can smugly report I’ve already read 23 books this year, and it’s only March — and on the nights that I feel fidgety, I’ve replaced mindless scrolling with knitting while I watch Netflix.

The final verdict: engaging in a mixture of offline and online hobbies has been extremely useful for my overall mental health. Knitting has been a really great way to stop me from reaching for my phone (because my hands are busy), and I love the satisfaction of creating something. So far, I’ve made this jumper from We Are Knitters and started creating a blanket, and I feel like a crafty goddess — which I highly recommend.



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WEIGHT LOSS

Justin Bieber’s Instagram Post on Mental Health

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LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 22:  Justin Bieber arrives at the 2015 American Music AwJustin Bieberards at Microsoft Theatre on November 22, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)

Justin Bieber is undeniably one of the most famous men in the world — and that has been a fact since he shot to fame at 13-years-old with his hit song “One Time”. The song has been viewed 610 million times on YouTube and has been listened to millions more times on Spotify, and that is just the beginning. We know this — he’s a man who needs little introduction. But what’s also been well documented are his struggles with mental health, and on Monday night, in a lengthy Instagram post, Bieber opened up about this topic as well as the impact of growing up as a child star.

“Have you noticed the statistics of child stars and the outcome of their life? There is an insane pressure and responsibility put on a child who’s brain, emotions, frontal lobes (decision making) aren’t developed yet,” he wrote. In the post, Bieber acknowledges that being “rebellious” and “defiant” with no rationality is a part of young adult life that most people go through, “but when you add the pressure of stardom, it does something to you that is quite unexplainable [sic]”, especially if you haven’t grown up in a stable home. He wrote, “I went from [being] a 13-year-old boy from a small town to being praised left and right by the world.”

Bieber goes on to write about the impact this had on his life as an adult, admitting he was never taught the fundamentals of responsibility, which was compounded by being “18 with no skills in the real world, with millions of dollars and access to whatever I wanted.” He continues, “By 20, I made every bad decision you could have thought of and went from [being] one of the most loved and adored people in the world to the most ridiculed, judged, and hated person in the world!”

He also writes about how common drug abuse is among entertainers, which he believes is “due to not being able to manage the huge ups and downs that come with [the job].” He also opened up about how this impacted his own life, and specifically, his treatment of women in early adulthood. “I started doing pretty heavy drugs at 19 and abused all of my relationships. I Became resentful, disrespectful to women, and angry. I became distant to everyone who loved me, and I was hiding behind a shell of a person that I had become.” Bieber ends the post on a more positive note, speaking about how his marriage to Hailey Baldwin has changed his life for the better. So far, the post has received praise from other celebrities like Sean Kingston, Patrick Schwarzenegger, and Cody Simpson, among others. You can read the full post below.

This isn’t the first time Bieber has addressed mental health or anxiety online. On Aug. 25 he shared a graphic showing tips to help with an anxiety attack, captioning the post with, “My gramma just shared this with me. Share of [sic] this helps u.”



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FITNESS

Billie Eilish Mental Health Video

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Billie Eilish’s songs fuse dark and dreamy melodies with raw, heart-rending lyrics, spanning genres and emotions, but one thing they always are is honest. The 17-year-old has opened up in the past about struggling to feel OK about herself, saying that her song “idontwannabeyouanymore” is inspired by feelings as strong and painful as self-hatred. “It’s the way that my brain works,” she said in an interview. “You can feel so unbelievably lost and horrible and like you’re nothing and you’re invisible, for no reason at all.”

This month, Billie is channelling that raw honesty in a powerful campaign with Seize the Awkward a suicide prevention program from the Ad Council. In a candid video, Billie talked about her own ongoing mental health journey and the moments when other people have stepped in and made a difference. Her story gets to the heart of the campaign, which implores people to start a conversation when they think a loved one needs help. Even though it might feel awkward, that conversation can be life-changing and life-saving.

Sometimes all it takes is a simple question: “How are you? Are you OK?” Other times, Billie said, “It’s about a hug. It’s about somebody holding you,” or even sending a text message. “It’s been like that for me,” she shared. “There have been certain people that have texted me right when I needed to be texted, saying that they loved me and that they were thinking about me. And it really means a lot.”

“I’m not a trained professional in anything,” she went on. “I don’t know what I’m doing half the time. But I have seen it and I have been it.”

According to Seize the Awkward, people experience mental health issues in different ways, but some common signs include acting out of character, losing interest in hobbies and activities, and feelings of hopelessness or negativity. (You can read more about the different signs of depression here.) It can be difficult — and, yes, pretty awkward — to ask what’s going on, but it’s also incredibly important. Watch Billie’s full video below. And if you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, visit Seize the Awkward for more information and ways to help.

In an emergency: If you or your friend needs urgent help, call 999 right away. Or even take your friend to the emergency room for assistance. If you feel it’s safe, stay with your friend or find someone to stay with them until help arrives.

In a crisis: You are not alone, and help is always available. If you are feeling anxious or depressed and need help finding help or resources, call Anxiety UK (03444 775 774) or Mind (0300 123 3393).


Image Source: Getty / Emma McIntyre / Staff



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