Earlier this year, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy described the worsening mental health symptoms among the country’s youth as the “defining public health crisis of our time.” On Tuesday, investors poured $13 million into a startup trying to address this sweeping problem.
Daybreak Health — a San Francisco-based company that partners with school districts to provide children with virtual mental health services — closed a Series B financing round that brought its total funding to date to $25 million. The round was led by Union Square Ventures, with participation from Lux Capital, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Maven Ventures and Y Combinator.
“There has never been a more important moment to accelerate Daybreak’s mission to build a world where every young person benefits from mental health support,” Daybreak CEO Alex Alvarado said in a recent interview.
He pointed out that there’s been a record demand for youth mental health services in the past few years, a trend that has collided with a lack of qualified professionals who can deliver that care. This had led to high costs for mental healthcare, as well as long wait times to see a clinician. These issues disproportionately affect young people who are at the highest risk of mental health challenges, including youth who are LGBTQ, people of color, part of low-income households or live in rural areas, Alvarado explained.
Daybreak seeks to tackle this crisis by giving young people access to mental health services in the place where they spend the majority of their time — school. The startup works with public school districts to provide students with one-on-one teletherapy appointments, and it tries to match each student with a clinician they can relate to and open up to, Alvarado pointed out.
“Daybreak has a personalized and culturally-responsive matching process that allows us to make a match between each student and the right therapist for them. Daybreak’s clinicians all have years of experience with youth, and they speak eight different languages. Seventy-four percent report as BIPOC, and 14% are members of the LGBTQ+ community,” he said.
He added that Daybreak’s clinicians specialize in various mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, academic stress, anger management, cognitive delay, grief and panic disorder.
Once a student gets matched with a therapist, their teletherapy sessions occur weekly for 50 minutes. Daybreak tries to accommodate a time that is best for the student and family’s schedules — students can meet with their therapist before, during or after school, as well as at home or at school. In between sessions, a student may receive additional support from their therapist through text-based messaging, Alvarado said.
For students with mild to moderate mental health needs, Daybreak’s teletherapy program spans 12 weeks. For students with more acute mental health needs, the program lasts 18-24 weeks. The startup also offers a 12-week family therapy program for elementary school-age children and their parents/guardians.
Daybreak has partnered with more than 60 school districts since it began providing mental health services in 2019. The startup’s programs are supported by a combination of health insurance payments and funding from schools, Alvarado explained.
“Cost structures for these programs differ for each district depending on the number of students, program needs and other factors. Many districts received funding for these types of programs and have sponsored these mental health services at no cost to families. Since school leaders are seeing the impact of school-based mental health support on improving student’s academic success like improved grades and better attendance and behavior, they are finding broader and more permanent pools of funding for these services,” he said.
Alvarado acknowledged that the virtual mental health services space is a crowded market with competitors like Hazel Health, Cartwheel Care, Dot Com Therapy, Talkspace and Brightline. However, he argued that Daybreak is the only startup that has been able to offer mental health services to children at scale through schools.
Daybreak’s ability to match students with clinicians who are the right fit also sets the company apart, Alvarado said. He pointed out that 92% of students said they were satisfied with their match.
“Other providers do not have the same depth of [clinicians] or sophistication in matching process and formula, meaning students are paired with a therapist based on availability only — leading to a poor therapeutic alliance and engagement,” Alvarado declared.
Photo: Alisa Zahoruiko, Getty Images