Khosla-backed Marble, built by former Headway founders, offers affordable group therapy for teens

Rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts are on the rise among American teenagers.

A recent report from the Center for Disease Control found that nearly one in three girls have seriously considered suicide, and a significant number, 13%, have actually attempted it.

Psychologists have different theories about what is causing teenage mental health crises.

Some blame the increase in the use of smartphones and social media, while others believe that isolation during the pandemic has played a significant role.

While the main drivers of adolescent psychological difficulties are not well understood, the biggest challenge now is finding ways to solve the growing problem, given a nationwide shortage of mental health professionals.

Jake Sussman, who was one of four co-founders of unicorn-sized mental health network Headway, believes his new startup can help address the deepening crisis by offering online group therapy for kids in classrooms fifth to 12.

After leaving Headway two years ago, Sussman decided to try something completely different. He became a fifth-grade English teacher at a charter school in Brooklyn. This experience not only gave him an opportunity to teach kids how to write essays, but it also gave him a front-row seat to why mental health care for kids is currently broken.

Sussman’s school had a counselor, but despite that person’s best efforts, they often couldn’t arrange help for students in a timely manner, he said.

“[Counselors] they are not clinicians. They have massive caseloads,” Sussman said. “The best they can do is give families physical PDFs of clinics that all have long waiting lists.”

It told the story of Jamelia, an orphan who fell into depression after her best friend dropped out of school. Because Jamelia was covered by Medicaid, she had to wait three months to see a therapist.

Sussman realized that one way to solve the shortage of mental health professionals is to provide help in a group setting.

“Group care has been around for a long time,” Sussman said. “They have been rigorously studied. And they work.”

While studies have found group therapy to be as effective as individual therapy, this type of treatment is not often offered by mental health professionals.

Although therapists in private practice can make more money running group sessions, group treatment is not popular with behavioral health providers because they are a huge administrative challenge, according to Sussman. “You will not find 10 children, you will not coordinate 10 schedules and verify 10 insurances. It’s a lot of work.”

Because of logistics, online group therapy can also be more effective than in-person treatment, according to Sussman.

“If you have two groups, and one is just 17-year-old girls who have anxiety and another is 17-year-old girls who have anxiety and are Hispanic and identify as LGBTQ, that second group, all things being equal, is it’s going to be much, much more effective because it’s more specific,” Sussman said. “The second group would be practically impossible to fill in person. How are you going to find 10 people who meet that criteria within a variable radius of the group’s location?”

Marble, which Sussman started late last year with another Headway co-founder, Dan Ross, claims it can solve the logistics of organizing group treatment and, at the same time, help many other students without sacrificing quality of care. On Friday, the startup will come out of hiding and announce that it has raised $5 million in seed funding from Khosla Ventures, Town Hall Ventures and IA Ventures, with participation from Daybreak Ventures and Lorimer Ventures.

Sussman said Marble’s main competitors are school-focused teletherapy startups Hazel, Daybreak and Cartwheel, which partner directly with school districts. “Schools have budgets available for student mental health, but those budgets are unsustainable and pretty small,” Sussman said, adding that schools can pay for up to six private therapy sessions, but that’s not the time. enough to handle the students.

Marble’s approach is different. The company works with school counselors who have the authority to make referrals, Sussman said.

Instead of charging school districts for Marble’s services, the company works with insurance, including Medicaid.

Sussman explained that Marble’s approach is economically feasible because Medicaid will pay at least $20 per child for a group session. “With 10 kids in a group, we can make $200 for that hour, which means we can pay the therapist a competitive fee and still have enough money to build the business,” Sussman said.

Marble tested this approach with one school in New York City and aims to build a relationship with hundreds of counselors across New York State over the next school year. “Counselors see the magic of not having waiting lists,” Sussman said. “They realize it’s much better than what they’re currently using.”

While the company is starting its services in New York, it plans to expand to other states.

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