Headspace doubles down on personalized mental health care, snaps up BIPOC-focused Shine

Headspace Health, a digital mental health company, is doubling down on care for marginalized populations by picking up the Shine app, a platform designed with the unique challenges of the BIPOC community in mind.

The Shine app serves 45,000 paid subscribers with a total of 6 million users and was named best of 2020 by Apple. Co-founders and co-CEOs Marah Lidey and Naomi Hirabayashi will join the Headspace leadership team. Shine tailors its content to marginalized communities including women and BIPOC people. The acquisition follows Headspace’s release of their Women’s Collection.

“One of our top strategic priorities as Headspace Health is to build the world’s most inclusive mental health and wellbeing brand, which requires infusing diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEI&B) into the fabric of everything we do,” Headspace Health CEO Russ Glass wrote to Fierce Healthcare in an email. “Over the past year since the merger between Ginger and Headspace formed Headspace Health, we’ve been continuing to evaluate ways to build up our DEI&B expertise, content and capabilities.

The merger of Ginger, a teletherapy provider, and Headspace, a meditation and mindfulness app, helped the duo reach 100 million consumers, according to the company. The expansion means users are offered interventions and tools for mental health support for everything from anxiety and depression to more severe mental illnesses.

By joining Headspace, Shine can help scale inclusive mental health support, according to Hirabayashi. Shine is buttressed by the Acceptance Commitment Therapy psychotherapy framework, emphasizing nonjudgmental self-assessment. In conjunction with Shine’s Equitable Mental Health Matrix, a non-deficit model of cultural competence, Hirabayashi believes the experiences of marginalized groups are acknowledged.

“Black and Brown communities are often left behind in clinical research and mental health care itself,” Lidey wrote in an email to Fierce Healthcare. “We sought to change this because we didn’t see ourselves—as a Black woman and an Asian woman—and our experiences represented in mainstream ‘wellness’ or mental health care. Our bodies, our skin color, our financial access, our past traumas—it all often felt otherized or not understood by predominantly white mental health professionals or basic mental health apps.”

The Shine app was founded in 2016 with an eye on recent events including the shooting of Philando Castile. Lidey wrote that she found nothing on the market relevant to the experience of Black trauma. Shine was designed with the belief that inclusivity means specificity. For Shine, that has meant naming mental health challenges like microaggressions, white fragility, representation burnout or Asian hate and its impact on AAPI communities.

More applications designed for specific populations have come onto the market in recent years, including The Safe Place for the Black community, FOLX for LGBTQ+ populations, Latinx Therapy for Latinos, Asian Mental Health Collective for Asian individuals and Deaf Counseling for the deaf community. There are even platforms for tighter niches like Therapy for Black Girls.  

Headspace recently created the position of chief social impact and diversity officer filled by Wizdom Powell, Ph.D., who is a nationally recognized expert on racial trauma with the hopes of further focusing on DEI&B.

“Shine stood out as a natural partner for us in this area—not only due to the award-winning content they’ve developed for their members over the years but also because their team is incredibly talented,” Glass wrote. “Lidey and Hirabayashi are visionary leaders who have dedicated their careers to advancing mental health equity and have become vocal advocates about the need for more inclusive, representative support for communities of color. This work has never been more critical. Data shows that people who identify as Black, Native American, Hispanic, Asian and/or LGBTQIA+ have higher rates of anxiety and depression, and fewer options for inclusive, culturally competent care and support.”

Of the teachers on Headspace, 40% identify as Black, while Headspace is in the process of hiring more Latinx teachers, according to Glass. He wrote that through partnerships with Shine, Dive in Well and GAY TIMES: Pride From the Inside Out, the platform is consistently reassessing its content.