Intuitively, it seems unlikely that the human brain will ever be capable of truly understanding itself. Technology changes all that. We’re learning more and more, and some of what we’re learning may be uncomfortable to talk about. For example, there are noticeable gender differences in the human brain – like hundreds of differences. These differences may help us explain why women are 2X as likely as men to experience depression in their lifetimes; the same for post-traumatic stress disorder. On the other hand, men are 2X as likely to suffer from addiction, and 40% more likely to develop schizophrenia. Could gender differences in the brain help explain the unequal representation in certain job occupations? Who knows, but the more we know about these differences, the better we can help treat mental health conditions for both genders.
Regardless of your gender, there are now many alternatives for treating mental health conditions. Self-help apps provide Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to the masses. AI startups help diagnose conditions and find the right therapist. Telepsychiatry providers provide coaching and therapy sessions to people in areas lacking coverage. As long as you’re connected to the web (and speak English), treatment is accessible.
The widespread adoption of remote therapy and self-help apps doesn’t mean these solutions can follow a cookie-cutter approach. This is an area of healthcare that will use data to offer increased levels of personalization, not just by gender, but by a myriad of other attributes. In this article, we’re going to look at specialized wearables for the mental health market that can help personalize therapy and generate big data for machine learning algorithms to munch on. Here are seven startups we’re going to look at.
|Name||Application||Type of Device||City||Funding|
|Carrot||Quitting Smoking||Portable Breath Sensor||Redwood City, California||30.8|
|InteraXon/Muse||Meditation Aid||Headset||Toronto, Canada||28.8|
|Somatix||Gesture Detection for CBT||Wristband, Watch||New York, New York||7.5|
|Ybrain||EEG and Brain Stimulation for Depression||Headband and Helmet||Seongnam, Korea||4.1|
|Feel||Emotion-Sensing Wristband for Anxiety and Depression||Wristband||San Francisco, California||1.8|
|Sana Health||Smart Mask for Chronic Nerve Pain and Insomnia||Smart Mask||Lafayette, Colorado||1.8|
|Flow Neuroscience||Brain Stimulation for Depression||Headband||Malmö, Sweden||1.1|
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, people who have ever experienced mental illness consume about 69% of all the alcohol, 84% of all the cocaine, and 68% of all cigarettes. Battling addiction is largely a mental process, and so is quitting smoking. Founded in 2015, Silicon Valley startup Carrot has raised $30.8 million from investors, including Khosla Ventures, to develop an FDA cleared connected breath sensor along with a coaching app based on behavioral science.
According to Carrot, there are one billion smokers worldwide, and half of them will die in a smoking-related illness such as heart disease, cancer, lung disease, or stroke. About 70% of smokers want to quit and 50% try in any given year. Most relapse. Pivot’s program begins the quitting process by engaging smokers and educating them about how it affects their lives, then teaches them useful behavioral techniques throughout the process. The app regularly measures users’ carbon monoxide (CO) levels via the breath sensor, tracks the number of cigarettes smoked, and maintains motivation with daily courses on the effects of smoking. Personal coaches help users follow through with the program and avoid relapses later. Pivot is also available to companies who can save about $7,000 per year for each employee who successfully quits. The program is even successful with people who say they’re not ready to quit – 32% of them stopped smoking in a clinical trial.
We came across InteraXon a few times over the past couple of years while researching neurotechnology startups. Founded in 2007, this Canadian startup has raised $28.8 million to develop a brain-computer interface that helps people learn to meditate and guides them through their meditation practice using a headband. The headband called Muse is a research-grade ElectroEncephaloGraphy (EEG) device that translates brain activity into guiding sounds of weather during meditation.
Launched late last year, the second-generation Muse adds the ability to monitor posture, breathing, and heart rate, providing an even more immersive experience. The attached mobile app tracks development progress by recording and visualizing personal meditation history, and feedback from each session accelerates learning. Muse is used by research institutions like NASA, Harvard, and MIT and is available to the public for $200-$250.
Founded in 2015, New Yawk startup Somatix has raised $7.5 million to develop real-time gesture detection technology that helps in behavioral and physical monitoring of patients. The startup’s platform uses sensors in commercial off-the-shelf smartwatches, smartbands and IoT connected devices to track gestures in real-time and recognize physical and emotional indicators. Gesture data is sent to the cloud, combined with user-specific information like calendar appointments, contacts, and social media posts, and analyzed by machine learning algorithms to find significant behavior patterns.
Somatix has developed two products on the back of this platform. One is a remote patient monitoring solution that looks at elderly people’s daily routines to identify irregularities like sudden falls, immobility, sleep problems, missed meals, or low liquid consumption. The second product monitors smokers’ behavior to assist them in quitting successfully by offering real-time incentives and support using CBT techniques. Somatix targets enterprises, health insurance companies, clinics, and elderly caregivers with its solutions.
Founded in 2013, Korean startup YBRAIN has raised $4.1 million to develop hardware for brainwave monitoring and brain stimulation for mental health professionals. The startup’s MINDD SCAN headset is a wireless EEG system that screens, visualizes, and processes brain activity in real-time. Traditional EEG scans typically take an hour while MINDD SCAN takes care of the examination and ensuing analysis in five minutes. YBRAIN’s second product, the MINDD STIM headband, helps to activate communication between neurons in the cerebral cortex using electrical stimulation, which is beneficial with conditions like depression, anxiety, and insomnia.
The headband is designed to be used at home according to doctors’ directions and allows clinicians to monitor treatment records and adjust patients’ treatment on the go. YBRAIN’s products are used in 43 hospitals by more than 600 users in the U.S and Korea.
Founded in 2015, San Francisco, California startup Feel has raised $1.8 million to develop a wristband that assists CBT therapy by identifying emotions. Feel’s technology monitors skin electricity conductance, heart rate, and temperature throughout the day, and relays this data to machine learning algorithms that translate it into emotional patterns. The connected mobile app provides personalized recommendations based on users’ emotional states. For example, if you’re feeling anxious and agitated, your heart rate increases and skin conductance changes suddenly. Feel’s wristband relays this information to the app which in turn suggests a calming breathing exercise. By doing the exercise, your body will feel calmer promoting a calm emotional response as well. Feel has created a mental health program combining this feedback mechanism with remote therapist sessions and homework tutorials that help in practicing self-help techniques. The startup offers its programs through health plans and employers.
Founded in 2015, Lafayette, Colorado startup Sana Health has raised $1.8 million to develop a smart mask for chronic nerve pain. Founder Richard Hanbury started experimenting with biometric sensors and nervous tissue modulation patterns after a severe car accident left him with extreme chronic nerve damage pain and five years left to live. He created a therapeutic device that combines patterns of light and sound inducing a flow state in the mind and balancing activity in the two hemispheres of the brain.
Ten-minute sessions with the mask are combined with heart rate analytics resulting in clinically actionable insights. This technology is not only successful in reducing or curing chronic pain, but in treating cases of insomnia and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as well. It’s currently being tested with the British Special Air Service and the U.S. Air Force. Sana’s clinical pipeline includes specific solutions for opioid use disorder, fibromyalgia, and oncology-related pain. The device will be available to the general public in 2019 following FDA certification.
Founded in 2016, Malmö, Sweden startup Flow Neuroscience has raised $1.1 million to develop a brain stimulation headset that can treat depression without medication. Similar to the YBRAIN device we discussed earlier, the Flow Neuroscience device sends gentle electrical signals to the frontal cortex of the brain which activates brain cells. Early results appear promising. In a trial, 23% of users managed to completely overcome depression and 41% felt significantly better after six weeks of using the headset alone. Flow provides a CBT app that helps introduce positive lifestyle changes as well in order to maximize patients’ chances of recovery.
Possible side effects include light short-term headaches and itchy or tingly sensations on the forehead – much smaller in both scale and number compared to the side effects of antidepressant medications. The treatment consists of eighteen 30-minute sessions over six weeks and can be extended with maintenance sessions up to two times a week as necessary. Flow will be sold as a certified medical device in the UK and Sweden starting in the first half of 2019 and will not require a prescription.
Five out of seven devices we just discussed provide tools for treating depression, a common mental condition that impacts 300 million people around the globe. A wide variety of technologies have been integrated into these different kinds of wearables, and this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to using hardware devices as an additional mechanism for treating mental health. The widespread use of smartphones means that every person carries with them a supercomputer that can be used for personalized mental health care. Throw in some edge computing and before you know it, we’ll all have a machine learning algorithm making sure we’re feeling a-okay every day.
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Published: March 29, 2019