The isolation and social distance measures that have been taken to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus have made the demand for mental health services skyrocket. And in times like these, consultations and therapies must be provided online, something mastered by Latin American startups in this segment. In the last few months, PsyAlive (the startup’s name used outside of Brazil, where it operates as Psicologia Viva) saw the number of users double on its platform. The Brazilian startups Vittude, Zenklub, and Telavita also report rising demand for its services.
PsyAlive co-founder and CEO, Bráulio Bonoto, says that the growth registered by the company in March was “extraordinary”. Before the COVID-19 quarantine, the company had approximately 3 million people covered by the service. Today, there are more than 6.5 million beneficiaries.
PsyAlive has made an average of 1,000 consultations per day. According to Bonoto, 75% of the calls came via corporate customers: companies and healthcare operators. The startup works with large companies, within the range of 500 to 1,000 employees, as multinationals that have operations throughout the region such as Avon, Siemens, and Azul airline.
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Adding direct and indirect customers (companies that use health coverage services that are PsyAlive’s clients), more than 200 firms have now access to the startup’s platform. The startup has already gone through three investment rounds and recently received a large one that will be announced in the next few days, as Bonoto informed.
From the same line of business as PsyAlive, the startup Vittude received an investment round of BRL 4.5 million at the end of 2019 ($820,000 in today’s exchange rate), led by Redpoint eventures – an amount being used in the expansion of Vittude Corporate, a product that companies offer their employees as a benefit.
In general, Vittude offers consultations with social values for the population while seeking to democratize access to therapy for companies. Since the beginning of the pandemic in Brazil, the company has registered an 18% growth on its platform traffic, reaching 2.2 million unique visitors in March 2020 alone.
“We had an increase in demand from all stakeholders: an increase in the demand for psychologists (wanting to work with) a safe platform; a surge of people seeking therapy; and also an increase in the number of companies wanting to develop corporate mental health projects for this moment to welcome their teams “, says Tatiana Pimenta, CEO of Vittude.
Vittude serves some companies with operations outside Brazil, in the United States and Argentina. For Pimenta, the growth in demand for psychological care will not cease in the coming months, even with a possible relaxation of social isolation measures.
Thinking about how to expand access to mental health services during the pandemic, the startup has been offering 50-minute consultations for BRL 20 ($3.70). According to Pimenta, some organizations are helping to fund the initiative, paying for services for those unable to do so. One of them is Favela Sem Corona, which has been conducting fundraising rounds to finance the assistance.
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Zenklub, which has clients in Mexico, Portugal and Spain, has registered “exponential” growth since the beginning of social isolation, according to CEO Rui Brandão. “The longer the quarantine period is extended, the greater the number of sessions held. To give you an idea, in the last month we grew 10% every week”.
The online service platform saw accesses grow by 160% and the number of customers increased by 90%. Brandão explains that the greater demand made the startup increase the accredited network of professionals (psychologists, psychoanalysts, and therapists) from 250 to 400 specialists.
The startup has already gone through two investment rounds and its Brandão promises: “new ones will follow soon”. The startup covers approximately 500 people among the more than 100 companies that hired the service.
Health professionals’ need for mental health
Telavita has also gained strength during social isolation, with a growth of around 30% in its user base and 200% in companies seeking its solution to offer employees. Psychologist and co-founder Milene Rosenthal explains that COVID-19 has also led to a significant increase in demand for healthcare companies that want to offer the service to doctors and nurses. In addition to stress, high workload and fear of contagion, distance from families has also disturbed professionals working on the front lines, who suffer from anguish and anxiety, reports the psychologist.
Psychologists are looking for the platform because they are not attending in person. According to Rosenthal, Telavita performs at least 100 sessions per day. Telavita serves all regions of Brazil and has received around BRL 3 million ($550,000) through angel investors.
According to Brandão, other pandemics have left a legacy of post-traumatic stress disorders in society, precisely because people were not prepared for the changes caused by each of these diseases.
Mental health is starting to be seen as essential care, and COVID-19 has accelerated that
Even though companies are cutting expenses during this downturn period, startups report that the demand from companies looking for online psychological assistance for their employees has not been impaired.
Zenklub’s CEO, Rui Brandão considers that as important as offering a medical plan is to promote the emotional health and well being of employees. In his view, companies have realized that the efficiency and results of employees improve from this benefit.
From the beginning of social isolation to the current moment, the platform grew 400% in B2B revenue. Zenklub plans to create a unique platform for HR professionals. “There is a trend to make emotional health a benefit within large corporations”, points out the CEO.
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Vittude’s CEO, Tatiana Pimenta informed that rather than reduce spending, many companies are investing in online therapy services at this time. “(The companies) made cuts in certain areas, suspended contracts, but chose to invest in mental health to support employees, and deliver comfort at a time when people are locked inside their homes, anxious, afraid,” says the CEO.
The CEO of PsyAlive said there were no layoffs by the companies the startup serves. On the other hand, Bonoto says that isolation made companies care about the emotional health of their employees.
For Rosenthal, co-founder of Telavita, companies looking for the startup’s services are not talking about suspending benefits, but about expanding it. “It turns out that the mental disorder is disabling, you don’t see where the problem is,” she explains. For this reason, she believes that companies are understanding that welcoming employees right at the beginning of a mental problem, which could impact their productivity, is fundamental.