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How a 'cultural shift' is making way for a therapy tool promoted by Michael Phelps

Brooke DiPalma
Associate Producer

One in five adults in the United States experiences a mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), yet accessibility and affordability may prevent people from seeking help. Talkspace, an online and mobile therapy startup promoted by world champion swimmer Michael Phelps, hopes to fill that void.

“Two out of three people cannot access mental health care,” Roni Frank, Talkspace co-founder and Head of Clinical Services, told Yahoo Finance’s On The Move last week. “In the last few years, there is a cultural shift in our society. Millennials are more open about their mental health struggles...the stigma has decreased, and demand has increased, and millions of people were left without treatment.”

Former record-winning US Olympian swimmer Michael Phelps speaks at the 2020 Under Armour Human Performance Summit on January 14, 2020 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

Therapy generally ranges from $65 to $250 or more, according to the online therapist directory Good Therapy. However, the cost of therapy can vary widely, with some therapists offering sliding fees depending on financial need and psychiatrists in larger cities like New York charging upwards of $350 for a 45-minute session (though sometimes insurance covers at least part of this cost).

Talkspace costs approximately $65 per a week, depending on the plan and is covered by a limited number of employers and health plans.

“The most popular plan is messaging therapy, where you’re messaging your therapist five days a week, and the therapist is going to respond to up to three times a day based on your needs,” Frank said.

‘Best used as complementary to in-person psychotherapy’

As suicide rates continue to rise, up 31% since 2001 and now the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-34, according to NAMI, Talkspace seems to be filling a need for those who would not otherwise seek therapy. Since its inception in 2012, the digital platform has served more than 1.5 million people.

Still, the American Psychological Association (APA) cautions that online therapy might not be the best option for everybody. “There are cases in which web-conferencing or therapy via telephone does seem to be a viable option on its own for some people,” the APA notes. “But for now, with the current research and with the current technology, mobile apps and text messaging are best used as complementary to in-person psychotherapy.”

Teenagers are perhaps one group that might be most amenable to therapy via text. A year ago, Talkspace introduced Talkspace for Teens, which lets people seek help directly from their phone. Frank notes that “social media use is correlated with mental health issues.”

“We have a lot of clients that come to the platform because they suffer from anxiety and depression due to social media,” Frank said. “The therapists are helping them to moderate their social media use, and to use it in a way that is healthier for them.”

Brooke DiPalma is a producer for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @BrookeDiPalma.