The recent influx in digital mental health resources is a product of combined forces, from the rising trend of technology in the industry to the necessary consequences of social distancing. And the need is clear—Americans are no strangers to stress. Nearly 20% of American adults suffer from an anxiety disorder, and the United States had one of the highest rates of anxiety disorders compared to other nations. The American Psychological Association affirmed these statistics when it published a report warning that chronic stress was becoming a public health crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic quickly forced organizations to turn their attention to mental healthcare and behavioral health resources. Organizations are now offering alleviation in the form of promoted resources, waived costs and new programs to their patients struggling with poor mental health during this challenging time. And many of these beneficial relief measures, which offer users support for anxiety and depression, are necessarily digital.

The road to digital mental health resources was paved by startups

Startup tech firms followed this approach by integrating mental health wellness into accessible, digital platforms:

  • Headspace and Calm both provide guided meditations geared toward alleviating stress, anxiety and difficulty sleeping through smartphone apps. Users can access several meditations for free via the app or sign up for subscriptions to gain access to more content.
  • TalkSpace, which was founded in 2012, is a digital therapy platform promoting helpful mental wellness tips. The firm saw a 65% increase in patient usage from March to April 2020 as members had to weather the pandemic.
  • Other therapy-focused companies, such as NYC-based Real, quickly transitioned to offering digital mental health resources to provide their patients with accessible and essential care during an unprecedented time of stress and anxiety.
Headspace digital mental health resources
Headspace Offers Digital Mental Health Resources through Its Mobile App

Major insurers are upping their virtual mental healthcare game

Insurers like Cigna also opted to make mental healthcare more readily accessible to its members by promoting virtual care and waiving copays and costs related to behavioral health and mental health resources, including telehealth appointments. By making these features financially and physically accessible, the firm provided essential support to its members during a time of unprecedented stress and anxiety.

Some firms are promoting existing but underutilized digital mental health resources. UnitedHealthcare, which offers an on-demand emotional support smartphone app, Sanvello, to eligible members free of charge, now highlights the app on its COVID-19 Care and Coverage page.

Cigna digital mental health resources
Cigna Wellness, Mental Health, and Behavioral Resources Page

Frontline workers need access to digital mental health resources too

Investment in mental health resources specifically for healthcare workers, as opposed to patients, has increased too. UNC Health recently partnered with Google to provide its frontline workers—first responders, nurses and physicians—with a free smartphone app called Heroes Health as part of a study. The app features a mental health assessment focusing on key issues including lack of sleep, heightened stress and anxiety, and depressive symptoms, and it links to relevant mental health resources.

Existing studies show that doctors and nurses suffer high rates of mental illness due to stressful careers and long hours. Adding a global pandemic only heightens the risk. Supportive resources like the Heroes Health app are all the more essential to maintaining the health of frontline workers and, by extension, patients.

As COVID-19 cases continue to spread across the country, more people are feeling the negative effects of quarantining at home and isolating themselves, including intense anxiety, depression and stress. Providing users with abundant digital mental health resources solves several problems at once: digital resources allow people to safely stay at home and reduce possible COVID-19 exposure while attending to their own mental health. By supporting patients’ mental wellbeing at home, we may all be able to weather the pandemic with greater ease and peace of mind.

Corporate Insight closely monitors the way the healthcare industry’s digital experiences evolve to benefit their patients and members. For further insights about changes to the healthcare space, read our continuing coverage on our company blog. For competitive intelligence on the user experience that healthcare insurers provide their members, learn more about our health plan research services.