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Five female founded mental health start-ups to watch

We list some of the best female-founded mental health apps

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Mental Health: Female founded businesses, apps and start ups

As the femtech world and wellness industry start to combine. We explore the mental health apps, startups and female-founded businesses you need to know.

Mental health conditions, especially after two years of pandemic restrictions and lockdowns, are on the rise. It is estimated that 1 in 4 people in England will experience some form of mental health issue such as depression or anxiety each year.

Spiritune

Spiritune combines principles of neuroscience and music therapy to inspire positive mental health outcomes. It aims to help reduce stress while increasing emotional regulation, productivity and performance through the music-based app.

The app was created by Jamie Pabst after she struggled with her own stress levels while working in the finance industry in New York. She realised the lack of accessible resources and wanted to create something impactful. The company highlights that headphones can become health tools allowing people to support their emotional health and perform better.

Jamie wrote: “Music is one of the most powerful stimuli that addresses the brain networks that underlie stress, emotions, motivation and reward. My vision to combine the effectiveness of music therapy and the accessibility of audio to help people better manage stress drove the creation of Spiritune.

Appreciating the role our auditory system plays in our health through my mom’s hearing loss, and understanding the significance of music in neurological function through my sister’s pursuits in music therapy, I am dedicated to bringing the vast benefits of music to people and organizations globally to create better health outcomes.”

It also offers a workplace setting that can help employers to boost productivity and employee well-being.

Mental health: female founded business, apps and start ups

Thymia

Thymia is a health tech company with a difference founded by CEO Emilia Molimpakis.

Thymia researchers developed a game based on neuropsychology combined with facial micro-expression analysis and speech pattern analysis to make faster mental health assessments. Its’s system allows clinicians a fun and engaging way to monitor their patient’s health. The game records subtle differences that doctors may miss and it also offers a way to monitor patients from home.

The app may have increased benefits for women in that it is also being developed to search for early signs of Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons’ Disease. Although both diseases affect both sexes, studies show Alzheimer’s is more prevalent in women. This is reversed when it comes to Parkinson’s Disease as men are 1.5 times more likely to develop the condition. However, women have a higher mortality rate and faster progression of the disease.

Speaking with Health Tech World, Emilia said: “In the patient’s view, they are just interacting with beautifully animated screens. However, what we are doing on the backside is where we are looking for specific patterns of behaviour because depression is associated with differences in cognitive function, psychological and behavioural patterns. Put all of those together and you get a signature for depression, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.”

Thymia secured €920k at the end of June 2021 from investors to help grow the company.

Moody Month

While practising good mental can be essential for every day of the month, there are times when it may be a little more difficult than others.

Pre-menstrual stress (PMS) can cause mood swings, tension, anxiety or depression. It can also cause social withdrawal and irritability. Although people with periods will recognise the start of their period, it can be tricky to know what is PMS or what may be depression or anxiety.

Moody Month, founded by Amy Thomson, helps users to receive a forecast of information on what is happening in their bodies each day. Amy was inspired to create the app after her periods stopped due to stress, travel and burn-out while working in event management in London.  She began searching for answers but was shocked to find a severe lack of information available for women. She also felt that period tracking apps stopped short at providing long term care for the entire cycle.

The app can help users to optimise their well-being by changing their mood, food and following fitness advice. It also tracks your hormonal cycle to better understand your moods and symptoms making it easier to recognise when it may be PMS. The more information input to Moody Month, the better the app is able to track and deliver information.

The best part?

The app is free unless you purchase something when using it.

Mental Health: Female founded businesses, apps and start ups

Heart it out

Femtech products or solutions are often designed after founders become frustrated by a gap not addressed in women’s healthcare. When it comes to mental health start-up, Heart It Out, that’s exactly what happened.

Nithya J Rao became concerned by the lack of psychologists practising in India which led to the creation of the platform. The result was a data-driven platform that can help to train psychologists for 16 weeks before they meet a patient. It also offers therapy to address issues such as depression and anxiety.

The startup also launched a free helpline called Briefly during lockdown which aimed to provide access to a network of 27 volunteers psychologists. They went on to help more than 600 patients with trauma and anxiety.

Patients can self-refer themselves through the platform for a number of different therapies including couple, family and child services. It also offers a ‘supervision’ service where professionals can join two or more psychology professionals in a continuous, collaborative, and supportive process. It aims to facilitate the exploration, monitoring and enhancement of professional functioning.

The website states: “Heart It Out began humbly as a ‘Room on the Roof’ in a quaint neighbourhood, providing a safe space for people to talk their hearts out. Today, it is a tech platform poised to provide confidential and non-judgemental access to mental healthcare, to 1.5 billion people by 2030.”

Altopax

Altopax combines care with community by offering a virtual group therapy platform aimed at connecting mental healthcare providers with patients who need care.

Pharmaceutical and health investor Narmeen Azad created the platform to help others connect with a group of peers who are also experiencing the same mental health condition or chronic illness. Healthcare providers can also connect with other professionals to discuss personalised, integrated care.

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Femtech must acknowledge the risk of perpetuating medical racism, say campaigners

Campaigners have warned that health tools could overlook women from marginalised communities

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Femtech must acknowledge the risk of perpetuating medical racism, campaigners have warned, amid concern that the sector could perpetuate long-standing racial inequities.

Femtech is already showing promise to help clinicians make better diagnoses and support women with managing their health.

But as excitement grows, campaigners have warned that these powerful tools could overlook women from marginalised communities and perpetuate long-standing racial inequities in how care is delivered.

“Any technology meant to help people track and improve women’s health outcomes must be inclusive and anti-racist,” Dr Regina Davis Moss, president and CEO of In Our Own Voice, told Femtech World.

“Black women have historically been disregarded, overlooked and undermined by the medical technology industry. It is past time for our interests and needs to be prioritised in clinical trials and other forms of scientific research.

“Femtech companies must ensure that their research and clinical trials equitably involve communities of all backgrounds.”

Around 2,000 femtech companies and apps have sprung up in the last decade to address women’s needs, including tracking apps, fertility solutions and menopause platforms.

These new tools are often built using machine learning, a subset of AI where algorithms are trained to find patterns in large data sets like billing information and test results.

The data these algorithms are built on, however, often reflect inequities and bias that have long plagued the healthcare system. Research shows clinicians often provide different care to white patients and patients of colour. Those differences in how patients are treated get immortalised in data, which are then used to train algorithms.

“When our research omits subsets of the population, the accuracy and potential benefits of that research do not extend to those who disproportionately bear the burden of disease,” said Dr Monique Gary, breast surgical oncologist at Grand View Health.

“We are seeing already how AI can harm marginalised communities, where biased algorithms require racial or ethnic minorities to be considerably ‘more ill’ than their white counterparts to receive the same diagnosis, treatment, or resource. This is perilous and avoidable.”

To create responsible and equitable technologies that include BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of colour) women, Gary said companies could start identifying and recruiting experts of colour, via pipeline programmes and incubators.

“We need to start listening to, believing and supporting the voices of Black women,” she said.

“In 2024, women of all ages and races, ethnicities and orientations are telling us out loud what they need to actualise a better version of healthcare which incorporates significant tech utilisation. It’s now up to us to listen.”

Ashley Jones, creative director of Tones of Melanin, said femtech must acknowledge the risk of perpetuating medical racism and prioritise inclusivity.

“Companies in femtech should actively seek out diverse perspectives and experiences, particularly from BIPOC women, in both their datasets and research.

“This includes collaborating with BIPOC brands, stakeholders and organisations to ensure that their products address the specific needs and concerns of BIPOC women.”

Tech developers, Jones said, could address racism by implementing robust diversity and inclusion initiatives within their teams, actively seeking out BIPOC voices in decision-making processes and educating themselves on the unique experiences of BIPOC women in healthcare.

Sylvia Kang, co-founder and CEO at Mira, pointed out that femtech companies should also focus on affordability, as cost can be preventing women from marginalised communities from accessing healthcare.

“Most of the people that can access femtech tools for their health are white mid-to-high income women,” Kang explained.

“Unfortunately, there are some communities, including BIPOC that do not have enough resources to purchase these tools.

“I believe it’s our responsibility to take action and democratise our data and tools in specific ways.”

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US start-up raises US$4.3m to address maternal mental health

The funding is hoped to help FamilyWell scale throughout New England and expand nationally

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The US mental health start-up FamilyWell Health has raised US$4.3m in seed financing to support women facing maternal mental health challenges.

FamilyWell Health is a behavioural health company that integrates specialised mental health services, such as coaching, therapy and psychiatry, into OB/GYN practices.

The platform aims to provide pregnant and postpartum patients with specialised support for depression, anxiety and other perinatal mental health concerns.

New mothers face dire maternal mental health challenges in the US, with a staggering one in seven women suffering from postpartum depression.

Individuals who seek treatment typically wait for months to be seen by a mental health provider and instead turn to their obstetricians, who are often hesitant to screen for mental health conditions knowing there is a shortage of therapists and psychiatrists.

“I had difficulty finding support when I experienced postpartum depression and have cared for countless new moms struggling to access mental health care during one of the most vulnerable periods of their lives,” said Dr Jessica Gaulton, founder and CEO of FamilyWell.

“My experience, both as a survivor and as a practicing neonatologist, inspired me to start FamilyWell to provide equitable, affordable, and accessible mental healthcare for new mothers.”

By partnering with OB providers, Gaulton said FamilyWell would increase access to mental health support for pregnant and postpartum individuals where and when they need it.

The funding, led by .406 Ventures with participation from GreyMatter Capital and Mother Ventures, is hoped to help the start-up scale throughout New England and expand nationally.

Payal Divakaran, partner at .406 Ventures, said: “Given our team’s deep experience backing innovative behavioural health and women’s health companies, we had been looking at this intersection for quite some time.

“FamilyWell offers an elegant solution that is a win-win for all stakeholders, including obstetric practices. Dr Gaulton and her team have built an incredible, mission-driven company poised to address a critical need in women’s mental health.”

Dr Melissa Sherman, medical director and obstetrician at Essex OB/GYN Associates, a FamilyWell customer, added: “When you’re pregnant or caring for a newborn, you can’t afford to wait months for help.

“With FamilyWell, patients get help within days and have ongoing support through one of the biggest transitions of their lives.”

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‘Women crave the quick fix of a silver bullet’: menopause experts have their say on talking therapies

Talking therapies could reduce symptoms that may not be otherwise relieved through HRT, specialists have argued

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The recent research showing talking therapies could help women through menopause is a “fantastic step forward” in the advocation of choice, experts have said, warning that HRT alone will not reduce all symptoms.

Talking therapies, such as mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy, have been found to effectively treat menopause symptoms, such as low mood and anxiety.

Researchers from University College London have shown that the practices, which focus on developing behavioural patterns, coping strategies and relaxation techniques, could have benefits beyond those of HRT, including improved sleep, memory and concentration.

The techniques, experts told Femtech World, could help dampen down women’s physiological system, reducing symptoms that may not be otherwise relieved through HRT.

“Our ability to regulate the stress hormone is hampered during menopause, meaning we sit further up the stress scale than we did before,” said Dr Bev Taylor, psychologist and menopause educator.

“Stress also makes many menopausal symptoms worse, either in frequency or severity. These techniques reduce symptoms by dampening down our physiological system and bringing us back down the stress scale.”

The beauty of them, Taylor said, is that they can be used by anyone.

“Whether you can or want to take HRT or whether you want to use them alongside treatments like HRT, you can. This research is a fantastic step forward in the advocation of choice.”

Catherine Harland, menopause educator, coach and founder member of MenoClarity, said talking therapies had received a lot of backlash since the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommended them in their updated guidelines.

“Whilst I understand how life-changing talking therapies can be, I fully appreciate why so many women crave the ‘quick fix of a silver bullet’ in the form of HRT as we have been taught this from a young age,” she said. “We have been taught to turn to pharmaceuticals for any symptoms we experience.”

Modern women, Harland said, live stressful, fast-paced lives, juggling a multitude of things and often feel too busy to fit talking therapies into the mix.

“Menopause is a highly sensitive time and it’s vital women begin to understand the importance of self-care which includes talking therapies and mindfulness.

“HRT alone will not reduce symptoms of stress, trauma and metabolic disease caused by living in a high cortisol state for long periods of time.”

Around 15 per cent of women aged 45 to 64 in England are currently prescribed HRT, which has increased rapidly in the last two years from around 11 per cent and continues to increase.

The main benefit of HRT, according to the NHS website, is that it can help relieve most menopause and perimenopause symptoms, including hot flushes, brain fog, joint pains, mood swings and vaginal dryness.

Draft NHS guidelines recommend offering cognitive behavioural therapy, alongside or instead of HRT.

Dr Shahzadi Harper, menopause specialist and founder of The Harper Clinic, said talking therapies could benefit women experiencing menopause symptoms and help them feel more in control. However, she said they should not be it at the forefront of the menopause conversation.

Dr Shahzadi Harper, menopause specialist and founder of The Harper Clinic

“Talking therapies do not address the inherent hormone deficiency that arises due to perimenopause and menopause and the long-term consequences of declining hormone levels,” Harper explained.

“I don’t think they should be at the forefront and definitely not instead of HRT. However, I do think they could be a useful tool, especially as the symptoms of menopause can be quite debilitating and affect mental health and mood.”

Dr Clare Spencer, menopause specialist, GP and co-founder of My Menopause Centre, said while HRT could help many women manage symptoms of the menopause, there would be some women who may continue to experience symptoms, such as poor sleep, low mood and anxiety, despite being on it.

“Women may face other difficulties at the time of the menopause that may be additional causes of stress which can also impact on experience of symptoms of the menopause.

Dr Clare Spencer, GP, menopause specialist and co-founder of My Menopause Centre

“In these cases, there is a place for talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness, to help break some of the vicious cycles that can then exist.

“There is also a role for talking therapies in helping women who have been advised not to take HRT or do not wish to.”

She said, however, that long NHS waiting lists could prevent women from getting the support they need.

“There is an issue with access to cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness-based therapies through the NHS which does need resolving to allow more women access timely support,” she added.

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