Jan 20 2021
2020 was difficult for everyone—especially young people. YPulse’s State of Mind trend report found that 54% of 13-39-year-olds say their mental health has been negatively impacted by Coronavirus. Eighty-seven percent have felt burnt out, while 62% have felt more burn out during COVID.
In this time, we’ve also seen an increase in the number of young people seeking professional mental health and mental health alternatives. The number of young people who have spoken to a mental health professional went from 41% in 2017 to 56% in 2020. But self-guided mental health tools have also been in-demand: 74% want to learn more about mindfulness and meditation. So while apps that provide meditation and mindfulness guidance, like Headspace and Calm, have been growing for some time, they have taken off even more in the COVID era. One in three young people have tried a mindfulness/mediation smartphone app (31%) in the last year to combat stress and anxiety, and a third (33%) are interested in trying one.
Digital—and especially mobile—mental health solutions are clearly something that Gen Z and Millennials are looking for. Now a newly launched app wants to be their accessible mental health toolkit. Centered is a platform providing mental health techniques from verified and certified professionals and experts. They currently have 75 free exercises that everyone can access, and then users can soon pay to unlock more in-depth courses.
We spoke with Centered Founder and CEO Lexi Lewtan about launching a mental health app during the pandemic, how and why mental wellness is becoming more digitized, and how they’re addressing the unique challenges Gen Z is facing today:
YPulse: How did Centered get started?
Lexi Lewtan: Centered is the silver lining of a really dark time that I went through in my early twenties. I was doing great in my job—as the first business employee turned Head of Ops at AngelList—but struggling so much in my personal life. My mom, a health and life coach, told me that I needed a “toolkit,” or a set of techniques I could use in the moment to be ok. This was more than just a wellness routine—this was my survival kit.
I spent the next seven years learning a wide variety of techniques across a lot of therapeutic methods like CBT, DBT, Somatic, and Spiritual—to name a few. My toolkit grew, but the toolkit itself was hard to maintain. I would often forget how to use my tools, and found it very difficult to learn new ones without a practitioner teacher. On top of that, I often wanted to share the techniques I learned with others, but had a hard time teaching the skill in a way that was easy to understand. The whole process just felt ripe for a technology solution.
So I set out to create a new kind of internet-enabled toolkit—one that lets you learn, save and share tools—with my mom as our first teacher. We now work with 30 practitioners from all different backgrounds and modalities to teach therapeutic techniques for different emotions and situations.
YPulse: How does Centered work?
LL: The core part of Centered is our library of “tools.” A tool is a video that teaches you a technique—taught by a therapist or coach—that you can use to manage your own struggles, like burnout, anxiety, parenting, insecurities, etc. When you sign up on our site and set your preferences, we send you a weekly text with a link to a tool we think you’ll like. Users through early 2021 also have full access to our library of tools, and can search through every video we have. But soon our paywall is going back up—users get three tools for free per month always, and then they can pay for our unlimited subscription, which luckily costs significantly less than the cost of a single therapy session.
YPulse: You’ve been vocal about your own mental health struggles in your twenties and how it inspired the launch of your app. Why was it so important for you to be transparent about your own depression and anxiety to subscribers?
I feel that my story is a good example of a person who appears impressive, but also struggles. You also can’t tell from talking to me that I go through this stuff—I just seem like a high energy, passionate founder. I want to send the message that it’s okay to admit that you’re struggling. More importantly, that there are tangible things out there in the world that can help.
YPulse: How has COVID-19 impacted your business?
LL: We actually got started during COVID on this business. Before COVID I talked to a lot of therapists who were very anti-technology, but I think COVID has pushed them into it.
Now I talk to therapists and coaches daily who are thinking about how to offer an online version of their services. They’re thinking outside of the box—the box being the 50 minute, one-on-one session—and offering groups, Instagram and TikTok content, and their own online video libraries. We’re kind of like their OnlyFans, meaning we’re their technology partner as they roll out lower price point therapeutic online offerings.
YPulse: YPulse’s State of Mind research found that 54% of 13-39-year-olds say their mental health has been negatively affected by COVID, while 56% have spoken to a mental health professional (like a therapist, psychologist, counselor, or life coach). Are you seeing that young consumers are taking steps to improve their mental health during this time?
LL: Gen Z are talking about their struggles more than ever on social media—mental health TikTok is massive—which is great for de-stigmatization and feeling less alone. There’s a lot of advice content, which is awesome, but I think there’s a gap that consumers are feeling between advice content and actual therapy. And that gap is: “Okay, so my mental health isn’t great—but what do I really do about it?”
Short entertaining clips are a great start, but taking it a step further from a production and professional level. We’re like Masterclass for your mental health—still bite-sized, but more about learning and coping than entertainment.
YPulse: Are you seeing that more users are turning to your app specifically because of the pandemic?
LL: Definitely—We launched at the right time. We’re seeing a chord struck with users specifically around self-support; people are busy and don’t just want to add another Zoom call to their calendars.
Right after we launched, a user made a video saying she’d tried Talkspace and Betterhelp, but quit because they were too expensive, but Centered gave her “all the self-serve stuff from therapy” at a price point she could actually afford.
YPulse: What are some unique challenges and obstacles you’re seeing that Gen Z are experiencing during this time?
Gen Z is struggling with uncertainty a lot right now. Their college experiences and career paths are looking quite different from what they expected, and it’s hard to say what the world is going to look like.
I think it’s important for brands in 2021 to engage with the reality of consumers’ mental health right now. Acknowledge that things are uncertain, and that we’re all figuring it out as we go! Tips on social are a good start, but larger partnerships and initiatives can show that it isn’t just performative.
YPulse: Why is it important to make mental health resources more accessible to people—particularly young people?
There are so many people who don’t have the mental health support that they need right now—many who might be your customers. Some are struggling but not reaching out for help; others can’t afford therapy or are embarrassed to try it.
There’s also a lot of friction in getting the support you need—and it’s even worse when you’re really struggling. Finding a therapist, going regularly—these things are a big commitment for anyone, let alone someone who is barely surviving.
Access is really about decreasing that friction to get help—making a hotline easy to call, or in our case, making a tool incredibly easy to send to a struggling friend. As a brand, if you can use your platform to reach people in one way that makes them feel hopeful when they’re struggling, you could help save a life.
YPulse: What are ways that brands can support young people’s mental health during this time?
Partner with us to deliver tools to your communities. I believe that directly offering resources is the most substantial way for brands to engage.
That’s not to say that de-stigmatization isn’t valuable; if you can make your consumers feel less alone, that’s great too. But making professional support more accessible and affordable for them is going to be more meaningful long term.
Lexi Lewtan is the Founder/CEO of Centered, the world’s biggest mental health toolkit. Previously Lewtan was the first business employee turned Head of Ops for AngelList, where she helped scale the recruiting business from 0 to $20 million a year. She lives in San Francisco with her boyfriend and two dogs. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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