As a consumer these days, it is very difficult to understand the mountains of information that is available on health-related information. We are inundated on a daily basis with conflicting reports of what constitutes healthy living and a healthy lifestyle. With this uncertainty lingering in the minds of consumers, entrepreneurs are creating products and services directed at assisting individuals in improving their health and their understanding of their health benefits. This industry is known as consumer healthcare, according to Ashley Brasier of Lightspeed Venture Partners.
Consumer healthcare deals with products in wellness, oral health, nutrition, and skin care, and primarily includes over-the-counter (OTC) drugs that involve medicines that do not require a prescription from a healthcare professional. Additional factors outside of consumer uncertainty that is contributing to the growth of this industry include “high demand for self-medication, growing healthcare costs, an increasing geriatric population who are more prone to contracting diseases, deterioration in mental health, and [a] shift from medication prescription to OTC products.”
Consumer health falls into the broader ‘health and wellness’ industry, which is globally a $4.2T market. Between 2015 and 2017, the industry actually grew 6.4 percent, which is nearly twice as fast as the global economic growth (estimated 3.6 percent). This rapid growth is a result of increased consumer demand.
Ashley Brasier, a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, is excited about investing in consumer health solutions, as she believes there is an opportunity to introduce more holistic approaches into the mainstream. She’s also excited about the de-stigmatization of mental health and focus on self-care.. Brasier specializes in working with early-stage companies, assisting them in developing an effective growth strategy. Brasier holds a BA from Duke University and an MBA from Stanford University. Her experience includes working as a growth advisor and consultant for growth stage companies, category manager at Thumbtack, and senior associate at Bain and Company. She joined Lightspeed Venture Partners consumer investing team in November 2018.
Brasier has reported that there is an optimal growth opportunity for early-stage companies who direct their focus in the consumer health sector – more specifically, companies that capture the growing trend of holistic medicine, challenge the stigma against mental health issues, and those that focus on and promote self-care.
Focusing on a Holistic Approach
Holistic medicine is the “art and science of healing that addresses the whole person – body, mind, and spirit.” Many of its practices are pulled from traditional Chinese medicine, integrating conventional and alternative therapies to prevent and treat diseases. According to the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine, holistic medicine “includes analysis of physical, nutritional, environmental, emotional, spiritual and lifestyle elements. [It] focuses upon patient education and participation in the healing process.” There are five primary alternative medicine practices that can be identified as holistic medicine. These include:
- Alternative medical systems, such as acupuncture, Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine, naturopathic medicine, and homeopathy.
- Body and mind techniques: These techniques are thought to affect any symptoms that you might have and/or bodily functions. These can include music therapy, hypnotherapy, biofeedback, and/or yoga.
- Biologically based therapy, which can include the use of herbs, vitamins, and diet.
- Manipulative body methods, which includes massage therapy, reflexology, acupressure, and chiropractics.
- Energy therapy: There are two types of this therapy, which include bioelectromagnetic and biofield therapy.
The shift in consumer demands has been driven by millennials as they continue to place a greater focus on health and wellness over material goods. They are conscious of what they put in their bodies, including medications prescribed by doctors. Many people have transitioned to a no-meat diet, started to incorporate yoga and meditation into their daily practices, and are promoting an overall active lifestyle. Startups are taking advantage of this shift and developing products that can promote this mindset; however, they are moving beyond health and wellness and into consumer health.
De-Stigmatizing Mental Health
Another avenue in which entrepreneurs are pursuing success is by tackling the stigma against mental health and developing concepts that actually promote the availability and ease of mental health services. In the past, many communities discriminated against individuals suffering from mental health conditions, and the effects of this stigma have been extremely damaging.
The unfortunate aspect of this stigma is that millions of Americans are affected by mental health conditions. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):
- Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. (46.6 million) experiences mental illness in a given year. Mental illness includes disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior.
- Approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S. (11.2 million) experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.
- Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13%.
- 1% of adults in the U.S. live with schizophrenia – a serious mental disorder in which people interpret reality abnormality and some victims may experience a combination of hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking and behaviors that creates challenges in their everyday functioning.
- 6% of adults in the U.S. live with bipolar disorder – a condition that causes severe mood swings between highs and lows, also known as manic and depressive symptoms.
- 9% of adults in the U.S.—16 million—had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. Depression is identified as a mood disorder that results in constant feelings of sadness and isolation. It is also known as major depressive disorder, and the symptoms can impact how you feel, think, and behave, resulting in various emotional and physical problems.
- 1% of adults in the U.S. experienced an anxiety disorder such as posttraumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and specific phobias.
- Among the 20.2 million adults in the U.S. who experienced a substance use disorder, 50.5%—10.2 million adults—had a co-occurring mental illness.
- An estimated 26% of homeless adults staying in shelters live with serious mental illness and an estimated 46% live with severe mental illness and/or substance use disorders.
- Approximately 20% of state prisoners and 21% of local jail prisoners have “a recent history” of a mental health condition.
- 70% of youth in juvenile justice systems have at least one mental health condition and at least 20% live with a serious mental illness.
- Half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14; three-quarters by age 24. Despite effective treatment, there are long delays—sometimes decades—between the first appearance of symptoms and when people get help.
The individual struggling with the mental health conditions is often reluctant to seek help or treatment, lacks understanding from family, friends, and co-workers, or is fearful of being bullied or harassed. These individuals are often faced with constant feelings of guilt and shame. However, thanks to changes in policies along with innovative thinkers, this stigma is being challenged. Not only are these startups helping challenge the stigma against mental health, but they are also assisting in the array of other problems this field faces, including misdiagnosis, inadequate drug prescriptions, shortage of therapists, cost, and workplace discrimination. The results mean a significant reduction in the statistics for those who do not receive help annually.
Increased Concentration on Self-Care
Whether it is exercise, diet, mental health improvement, or one of the other aspects of self-care, entrepreneurs have been getting funding to make a difference in quality of life for many.
What is Self-Care?
“Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health.” Self-care includes activities that allow us to be good to ourselves and promote a healthy lifestyle. To many self-care means:
- Knowing who you are and what your limits are.
- Getting the sleep you need and knowing how to rest.
- Making sure that you are well fed.
- Finding a way to decompress throughout your day.
- Giving some thought to changing a difficult work situation.
- Taking time to get to know you
- Identifying what you enjoy doing and what’s fun for you, and making a serious effort to integrate those actions into your everyday life.
- Knowing how to debrief from a day’s work.
- Feeding your spiritual self.
- Taking time to love yourself.
It takes self-understanding to comprehend the importance of such behaviors, and discipline to implement them into your daily living. With the ongoing struggle that individuals face worldwide, many people are turning to various platforms to assist in the implementation of such self-care practices.
Venture Capital Supports Mental Health
2018 reports indicated a rise in venture capital firms supporting companies that support mental health services. In 2018, $792 million were invested in mental health tech deals, triple compared to 2017, which raised $322 million. Venture capital firms are investing in computerized cognitive behavioral therapy (CCBT), telepsychiatry, provider tools, consumer tools, hardware, and applied AI. The push for companies assisting in all areas is creating a change for the future, making mental health services easily accessible and affordable. Ashley Brasier, along with many of her colleagues in the venture capital industry, is recognizing the need and potential for more innovation in these sectors of the health and wellness industry.
Be sure to follow Lightspeed’s Ashley Brasier on Twitter.