Idea Development Trends: Mental Health

May 21, 2020 | Innovation, Signals

May is home to many “holidays,” like Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day and Memorial Day. May is also Mental Health Awareness month and given the state of our current pandemic world, this topic deserves extra focus and attention.

By the numbers: Mental Health Opportunity

  • Up 2,000%: Telemedicine up 2,000% as health care goes digital, according to Forbes.
  • Up 59%: Healthcare workers report their mental health has worsened according to KPMG.
  • 19.1% of U.S. adults experienced mental illness in 2018 (47.6 million people). This represents 1 in 5 adults.

At least we are talking about it. The stigma surrounding mental health issues as a whole has dramatically decreased over the last 20 years. Do we still have a long way to go? You bet.  Aside from the time needed in changing any cultural norm, what can we do to fix this? Is this something that can be fixed via innovation? We think so.

TL;DR: Mental health needs a rebrand and it starts with innovation.

Problem + Solution: Smart devices + Smart Devices

Wait, what? Yes, you heard us right. When really thinking about the rise in mental health issues it’s hard to not immediately blame it on the rise in smart devices and our constant connection to everything – especially marketing & comparison culture. BUT, what our data shows is that smart devices are also the solution.

Let me explain.

It’s not breaking news that smart devices and the resulting constant marketing, addictive scrolling, and comparison culture can be quite bad for our sense of worth and well being. With the ‘million’ different social media apps, notifications, and the ability to search and see whatever you want, whenever you want – we’ve created a culture of people who have low self esteem, hooked into the shiny pursuit of “better,” leading to a decrease in mental health states. Smart devices show you what you don’t have, leaving you always unsatisfied with what you do have – which, by the way, is often plenty…which reminds me: You. Are. Enough.

Just look at the data… Of the $15.4B invested in mental health-focused companies since 1972, $1B has been invested in things like machine learning/AI, online content and digital therapeutic treatments in the last 12 years alone.

Let’s look into the mindfulness Innovation Signal, shall we? It’s here that you’ll see that of the $1.4B invested since 2005, apps were given 20.35% of that – over $285M to be exact. What does all of this mean? While social media and dating apps pick away at our population’s mental health, apps around mindfulness and improving one’s mental health are on the rise in a big way – our connected devices have been the problem but our big prediction is that they will also be a huge part of the solution.

This week, we sat down with Sara Plummer Barnard, mental wellness advocate who founded the happiness agency GetHealthySexyHappy that teaches the mental health protocols that worked for her . She is truly one of the smartest women we’ve ever met and you should join us in Cobalt Conversations to hear more of what she has to say. While we don’t wish her tough experiences on anyone, we’re certainly glad it prompted all that wellness research and are excited to share it with you..

Her insight led us to believe that there are 3 major areas of innovation via smart devices that we need to be thinking about when it comes to bettering our mental health and they might surprise you…

What’s driving innovation?

Sweat. Sex. & Sleep. #TheresAnAppForThat



In today’s world, the way we’ve industrialized agriculture means that even the food we think is healthy is still toxic to our gut health, blood sugar balance, and resulting feel good. Our gut health is directly tied to our mental health – it’s true – and when we sweat, we detox and balance our blood sugar. Sweating from working out, as you all know, “creates endorphins and endorphins make you happy, and happy people just don’t kill their husbands.” – Elle Woods, Legally Blonde It’s science people. So let’s get sweaty.

When it comes to fitness apps and YouTube videos, there are too many to count and that’s what’s happening now – we aren’t here to talk about what’s happening now but rather what’s next? How can we take fitness apps into the next generation of innovation?

Maybe it’s a wearable + app combo that helps measure your body’s toxicity and endorphin levels that helps you work out before you realize you’ll need it? Now that’s proactive.

While we’re talking about bright ideas, now is a great time to introduce you to Cobalt Projects…

Sex (with caution)

Intimacy with a partner and/or with yourself is important. It’s good for you personally and it’s great for your relationship. At any stage, age or dynamic – sexual activity is good for your mental health. The annoying part? Sex is still taboo and this is especially true for women. We say, “to hell with that!” because experts everywhere will agree that a healthy sex life is medicine. And, #lifehack sex + sweat can happen at the same time. 😉  But, how do apps come into (fore)play here?

One of our personal favorites is Dipsea“A female-founded startup tech company, Dipsea creates stories (which they also call ~experiences~) that are real, elevated, and feminist. The goal? To revolutionize the way you get in touch with your erotic selves.”

But sex and more importantly good sex doesn’t come easy for everyone which is why we think innovation belongs in coaching and education apps. And outside of apps, how can self love and self acceptance be used when it comes to improving mental health by way of sex and masturbation?

Talk about how to get over the insecurity hurdles and make sure sex is a safe place to explore and embrace joy with Sara and our innovation community here.



After all that sweating and sex – you’ll be ready for a good night’s sleep and good thing because sleep is CRUCIAL to mental health. Sleep is a reset and as you all know, you feel better when you get rest. Good sleep is linked to better heart health, better brain health and even longevity. It’s quite literally the fountain of youth. There are plenty of apps out there that help one fall asleep with sounds effects, guided meditations, REM trackers and more – and that’s great. But, these apps all have one thing in common: they help you fall asleep at the time you want to fall asleep. According to Sara and many other experts – the quality of your upcoming sleep tonight is affected by how you spend your day and there are some timing, food, and stimulation tricks.

So when it comes to what’s next in smart device innovation for sleep health, we think it lies somewhere in daily lifestyle education, coaching and tracking. Want to make this a project on Cobalt? Do that here.