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How to make therapy more accessible and affordable

Talkspace Co-Founder and Head of Clinical Services Roni Frank joined Yahoo Finance Live to discuss how the company is breaking down access to mental health resources and its Q1.

Video Transcript


ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Welcome to "A Time for Change," everyone. I'm Alexis Christoforous here with Kristin Myers and Sibile Marcellus. Thanks so much for being with us. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. And that is where we are putting our focus today.

Perhaps it's the pandemic, but there has been a noticeable shift in the way Americans are talking about their mental health, with more people opening up about their daily struggles and how they're confronting them. But we may just be scratching the surface here.

KRISTIN MYERS: That's right, Alexis. Listen to some of these statistics. According to a recent CDC report, over 40% of surveyed adults said they have felt symptoms of anxiety or depression. And nearly 12% reported needing and not receiving counseling or therapy. So the question is, how do we close that treatment gap?

SIBILE MARCELLUS: And one approach that's been gaining traction is virtual therapy, that's getting help via a text or an app. Now, Talkspace is one of those online therapy platforms. And joining us now is the co-founder and head of clinical services Roni Frank.

Roni, most Americans have been impacted by the pandemic in one form or another. Now, the country is in the phase of trying to get back to normal. The CDC says we can drop the masks if you're fully vaccinated in most indoor settings. Do you expect that the need for therapy will start to slow down, or do you expect your business will continue to grow?

RONI FRANK: Hi, everyone. And thank you for having me. So I'd like to start with the problem that Talkspace is addressing. Mental health has been underserved and de-prioritized for decades. More than 70 million Americans suffer from some level of mental health issue each year.

However, most of them cannot access services because it's too expensive, it's not accessible, it's very hard to get an appointment in a timely manner, or if you live in a rural area, and last but not least, stigma, shame. So millions of Americans are suffering for years without the ability to receive [INAUDIBLE] help. And these trends have only been accelerated by this unprecedented year with the global pandemic, financial crisis, and social unrest.

Talkspace is a mission-driven technology company. We built a digital health platform that is removing those barriers, such as access and cost, very, very effectively to democratizing access to mental health care. Our mission is to make mental health care accessible and affordable for all.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Roni, I want to talk a little bit about your business model and how you are trying to make this more cost effective or accessible to more people. I know that you're planning to go public via SPAC, and so you released your Q1 earnings.

And the numbers are looking pretty good here. Revenue grew 144% year over year. You now have approximately 60,000 members. But how does it work? Do you accept insurance? And what are the fees like?

RONI FRANK: So let's talk about the growth of the company and COVID 2020. As I mentioned, COVID-19 pandemic, financial crisis, social unrest, all of this led to a dramatic increase in mental health issues. We see record levels of anxiety, depression, loneliness, trauma.

[INAUDIBLE] people are very anxious about going back to the offices. And they are still traumatized from the whole year. And it's important to remember that the crisis started even before COVID.

Now in terms of growth of our company, our user base has doubled during 2020. And I'm excited to share with you that currently we're covering 55 million lives through insurance companies and employers. And I must say that we feel privileged to be able to offer some help and support during this difficult time, you know, to be part of this [INAUDIBLE] crisis. And another thing, by the way, important-- sorry.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: Of course. Well, Roni, I was actually going to ask, a lot of high-profile people have spoken out about mental health, even Olympic champion Michael Phelps. Now, let's watch what he said in an interview with Yahoo about his own struggles.

MICHAEL PHELPS: I personally have felt that I don't want to be alive in my life. I have felt that feeling before. And it scared me. And I have three little boys here, and I never want to miss a single day.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: And as we look ahead to the Olympics in Tokyo this summer and think about possibly other athletes who may be struggling, how much of a risk is it to be this honest when there's potentially millions of dollars on the line, sponsorships, and Olympic gold medal?

RONI FRANK: So let's talk about stigma because this is what Michael Phelps is very passionate about, removing the stigma, as well as Demi Lovato, who we partner with her as well. Stigma is very, very dangerous. Because of stigma, people prefer to suffer in silence instead of reaching out for help.

For us, the most effective way to eliminate stigma is to lead honest and real conversation about mental health. And we are constantly pushing those conversations forward as a way to normalize this topic and get people used to talking about it to stop the shame. As part of our effort, we have partnered with Michael Phelps and Demi Lovato. Both of them are incredible ambassadors who use their platforms to inspire people to take action and reach out for help.

The fact that they are so honest and authentic about their own struggle make all of us feel that we are not alone, that we are all struggling from time to time, that it's completely normal and part of being human. And we hear over and over again how much their strength and authenticity have impacted the lives of their fans and community.

You know, Michael Phelps always says it's OK not to be OK. And I have to tell you because after we launched our partnership with him, we immediately saw a spike in users on the platform because that allowed people to feel more comfortable with their own challenges and reach out for help. And this is very, very rewarding for all of us.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: And Roni, what about investors who see this, who understand your mission, and who want to invest. I know the SPAC is valuing the company at about $1.4 billion. When do you hope to go public on the NASDAQ?

RONI FRANK: Pretty soon. You know, we have partnered with Hudson Executive led by Doug Braunstein. We had an immediate chemistry with Hudson because they are very mission-driven, they are very excited about our mission to democratize access to mental health care, reduce costs, and improve clinical outcomes.

And we are always looking to partner with investors that are mission-driven and excited about the mission the same way we are excited. And that's why we chose Hudson. And we are very excited about the next stage of the company.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: Well, definitely important to continue the good work. Roni Frank, thanks so much.