Google taps Headspace executive to lead tech-driven mental health efforts

Google is ramping up its focus on mental health and has brought former Headspace executive Megan Jones Bell on board to lead its consumer-facing efforts.

Bell, former chief strategy and science officer of Headspace, a meditation app that just merged with behavioral health company Ginger, will join Google as its clinical director of consumer and mental health, the tech giant announced Tuesday.

She will be overseeing Google's approach to mental and behavioral health and leading a team of clinicians and health experts who support a number of the tech giant's consumer products, according to a Google spokesperson. Bell will start her new position this week.

Bell previously worked with Google as a mental health adviser, and her hiring signals that the tech giant is deepening its investment in the behavioral health area.

A Google spokesperson pointed to the company's multiple initiatives and product features in mental health across the company, including connecting people to authoritative, actionable information and resources on YouTube as well as its maps and search features.

RELATED: HLTH21: DeSalvo says baking health into all Google's efforts opens the door to 'billions' of healthy consumers

Google also has developed clinically validated screeners for depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and postpartum depression. Last May during the beginning of the pandemic, Google partnered with the National Alliance of Mental Illness to launch the latest, an anxiety screener, which included medically validated information about anxiety, including symptoms and common treatments.   

Google has also launched a number of features, resources and partnerships in recent years around substance abuse (Recover Together) and supporting people in their recovery.

Fitbit, the wearables company now owned by Google, has expanded available tools that help people manage their everyday mental health and well-being, such as mindfulness tools, according to the spokesperson.

Bell's hiring comes following a shake-up of the Google Health division, which underwent two reorgs this summer, the latter of which resulted in department chief David Feinberg, M.D., jumping ship to lead health IT company Cerner.  The tech giant is pivoting away from a unified health strategy, and the company's health-focused projects will now be split across Google's myriad teams and divisions.

RELATED: Google says health projects will continue even as it unwinds dedicated health division

Despite the organizational shuffle, Chief Health Officer Karen DeSalvo, M.D., said during the HLTH 2021 conference last week that the company has done anything but scale back its health efforts.

DeSalvo said her team now guides Google on the health components of its authoritative information services, its regulated medical products and its employee health and safety. 

“Our overall goal … is to help billions around the world be healthy—and that is a big, audacious goal,” DeSalvo said.

During HLTH, DeSalvo outlined three key areas of focus for Google's health initiatives: authoritative information and tools to help people manage their health and well-being, tech solutions to transform care delivery, including advancing the use of artificial intelligence for the screening and diagnosis of disease and community health with a focus on using data and insights to provide context of how people’s health is impacted by where they work, live and play. 

Bell will be joining DeSalvo's team, which supports Google Health, its company-wide health-focused efforts spanning Google Search, Maps, YouTube, Fitbit, Cloud and its health AI research. A company spokesperson clarified that Google Health isn't one team or product, but spans across the company and encompasses its products and services for consumers, clinicians and public health. 

Bell trained as a clinical psychologist and researcher, focusing on rigorous assessment of mental health interventions, including randomized controlled trials of digital therapeutics. She was the chief science officer and scientific founder at Lantern, an evidence-based digital mental health company whose core intellectual property went on to become part of Omada Health, Ginger and others, according to her LinkedIn profile.

At Headspace, she also led Headspace’s enterprise business, including product development through go-to-market and its healthcare business development and partnership efforts.