In light of World Mental Health Day earlier this month, we took the opportunity to speak with Wysa about the barriers people face in improving their mental health. Wysa provides users with an innovative digital platform for AI-driven, evidence-based mental health support, coaching and services. Based in Boston, MA, they have now reached over 11 million people across 95 countries. Wysa is a portfolio company of HealthQuad, one of our fund investments at Johnson & Johnson Impact Ventures, an impact fund within the Johnson & Johnson Foundation.
Read more from the team at Wysa about how they are changing the future of mental healthcare:
DD: What do you wish more people knew or understood about the intersection of physical and mental health?
Smriti Joshi, Chief Psychologist: The intersection of physical and mental health is a profound connection; one cannot thrive without the other. One of the most surprising things users learn with Wysa is that our bodies and minds are inextricably linked, and nurturing both is essential for overall well-being. Anxiety, too, manifests physically: our heart rate quickens, stress responses activate and we may experience dizziness or discomfort.
When people with chronic pain tried various exercises offered by Wysa to help manage their anxiety around pain better, they were surprised to find relief from physical pain and noticed an increase in self-efficacy to cope with pain. When distressing physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat or muscle tension arise, CBT techniques, meditation, breathing and mindfulness exercises can calm the mind and body. It’s all connected.
DD: How can AI help mental health services become more accessible to communities that have historically faced barriers?
Jo Aggarwal, Co-Founder & CEO: AI has the incredible power to increase access to mental health on a massive scale. It can link people to simple but powerful forms of care that make a huge difference and serve as a non-intimidating, comfortable bridge to further forms of care with human professionals. The current system is fragmented and exacerbates obstacles like the high cost of healthcare, insurance limitations, ongoing provider shortages, “therapist deserts” and the persistent stigma of mental health treatment. AI doesn’t work within that system; it totally circumvents it, making these obstacles obsolete. AI can provide people with the care they may need, regardless of their status or ability to see a therapist.
In fact, our peer-reviewed clinical research found that many individuals do feel more comfortable talking to an AI bot because they can unapologetically share their lived experiences with an unbiased neutral source. That being said, it’s important that AI for healthcare is built for safety. Guardrails to negate bias, protect user privacy and maintain clinical safety are crucial.
DD: Where do you see the field of mental healthcare going next? What are you most excited about the future?
Ramakant Vempti, Co-Founder & President: We anticipate a future in which mental healthcare is available at everyone’s fingertips, regardless of what language they speak, country they live in, insurance they carry or any other differences. Having mental healthcare in your pocket can help make these mental exercises a part of people’s everyday routines—just like physical exercise. The technology is here. We just need to bring it to everyone who needs it, now.
At Wysa, we believe the next frontier is combating declining mental health in the workplace. Emotional and mental health is deeply impactful on job performance and more companies are starting to realize its impact on the bottom line. For corporations, providing access to mental health support at scale is the next great challenge.