Online Mental Health Treatment’s Failed Promise

Online Mental Health Treatment's Failed Promise
Online Mental Health Treatment's Failed Promise

Heavy advertising and other Silicon Valley playbook strategies boost provider growth but not care quality.

Remote treatment of mental health problems increased during the pandemic because in-person therapy became difficult, and pandemic-induced isolation increased anxiety and depression.

Digital mental health startups rushed in, promising millions of people to access high-quality care via video, phone, and messaging.

On the other hand, many businesses place a high value on expansion. They were backed by investors and used classic Silicon Valley tactics like spending heavily on advertising and development while frequently using contractors instead of employees to cut costs. The formula, which was designed for mundane businesses such as food delivery, may be unsuitable for the sensitive activity of treating mental health problems.

Online Mental Health Treatment’s Failed Promise ; image from WSJ

Caleb Hill was kicked out of his house after telling his parents he was gay. Growing up in a conservative Christian home in Tennessee, he had been taught that his attraction to men was a grave sin.

Mr Hill, then 22, felt isolated and depressed a few months later and thought therapy might help. He’d heard podcast advertisements for BetterHelp, a company that promises “a personalised therapist match that is tailored to your preferences and needs.”

His main concern was that he missed his family. He claims that the therapist he was assigned advised him to try to stop being gay and to return to them. “He said he could get me where I needed to be if I chose to go back to who I was and deny those feelings,” Mr Hill explained.

A screenshot of Mr Hill’s intake form shows that he requested an LGBTQ+ therapist. According to the provider’s profile on BetterHelp’s website, he was assigned to one who did not specialise in LGBTQ+ issues and whose personal website states that he practises Christian counselling.

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