Technology can, and should, play a pivotal role in bridging the gap between the burgeoning demand for mental health services and limited supply of quality professionals, says Deepak Gopalakrishna, CEO and founder of mental health and wellness startup Rey.
The VR-empowered mental health company announced Tuesday that it has raised $10 million in new investment, bringing its total series A funding round to $26 million. The round was led by Optum Ventures and Oxford Sciences Innovation and comes three months after the company launched in April.
Though Rey is in its nascent stages, Gopalakrishna has been in the health tech industry for nearly two decades; first as a medical doctor, then as an entrepreneur who launched multiple biotech startups and also as an investor at BCG Digital Ventures.
The supply and demand imbalance of mental health services has caused undue burden on young clinicians coming straight out of college, Gopalakrishna says. “It’s like giving a college senior a full load of back-to-back executive level meetings and asking them to context change and problem solve.”
Spurred by the expansion of online therapy and pandemic-driven desperation for mental health services, $2.6 billion have been poured into the sector since 2016, according to Crunchbase. But while mental health companies have proliferated, mental health care workers are being drawn from a small pool of therapists. There are roughly 34 licensed professionals for every 100,000 Americans, according to American Psychological Association.
“Essentially, you kind of feel like an Uber driver. That’s a horrible clinical clinician experience as well,” Chief Commercial Officer Mike Desjadon tells Forbes.
Compounding that problem is the issue of a client’s trust in the physician’s ability to help a patient. “And that is technology solvable,” Gopalakrishna says.
Rey uses a personalized combination of cognitive behavioral therapy, talk therapy, medication, and clinically validated tech tools such as virtual reality to help its clients achieve mental wellness.
“We want to play a big part in democratizing access to good care, which is right now still elusive for people,” Desjadon says.
By using digital integrations like virtual reality and augmentation, the company aims to optimize a clinical psychologist’s precious time. The goal is not to replace the therapist but to automate the routine day-to-day aspect of mental healthcare, Gopalakrishna says. Additionally, the company plans to use automation to monitor and manage a patient’s care and track progress.
Another perk of using immersive tools such as VR in mental healthcare is the ability to provide therapy in the right environment. For example, for someone with a fear of heights, the best care can be provided in the simulated setting of the top of a skyscraper through virtual reality rather than conducting a session in a closed room or over a Zoom screen, Gopalakrishna explains.
Gopalakrishna’s motivation to tackle the structural inefficiencies in the mental health system comes from his grandmother’s experience with mental illness and the inadequate, sometimes brutal treatment she received. “All I knew of my grandma was that she was a crazy old lady who slept for like six months of the year and was extremely abusive, and violent, for the other six months of the year,” he says.
“What I didn’t know was that she was the top of a medical school class and was a top notch doctor in 1950s and 1960s India, which is pretty freaking amazing,” he says recalling his grandmother, who was treated using barbaric methods of early electroconvulsive therapy. .
“Medical care has come a long way since then but we’re still overmedicating people, and we still don’t provide people with the right psychological therapies. I just want to change the way we deliver care,” he tells Forbes.
Rey promises its customers access to on-demand personalized mental health care services and cutting-edge technologies. With the new VC funding, the company plans to expand its consumer reach within the U.S. and internationally. Rey’s technology is born out of the academic circles of Oxford. Its parent company, OxfordVR, was founded by Daniel Freeman, a professor at the Oxford University Department of Psychiatry.