Eating disorders have a high death rate Compared to other mental health conditions, however Many people Struggling for access to treatment. according to a report By STRIPED, the Academy of Eating Disorders and Deloitte Access Economics, 28.8 million Americans alive in 2018 and 2019 will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives.
Equip, a virtual eating disorder treatment company, aims to improve access and effectiveness of care through family therapy, which works with patients in their homes alongside their family members during recovery. Founded in 2019, the startup announced that it raised $58 million in group B financing earlier this year.
Christina Safran, CEO and Co-founder of Equip, sat down with MobiHealthNews To discuss the company’s nationwide expansion, how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the spread of eating disorders, and why the region needs more research and investment. This text has been edited for clarity and length.
MobiHealth news: You are currently focusing on children, teens and young adults right now. Is this because eating disorders are more common in this community? Or are you planning to expand?
Christina Safran: We plan to expand. We will expand to adults after age 24 in the early spring of 2023. It’s a great question. I’ve been working on this since I was 15, and basically recovered. It has been my life’s mission to ensure that other people recover, too.
The honest answer is to start anything, I think you should start with focus and really get it out of the garden. Most of the evidence has been done on children and adolescents with family-based therapy. It is easier to do family-based therapy when children live at home and you are financially responsible for them.
Having said that, nothing really changes in your brain the day you turn 18. And we obviously have two adults on our show, 23, 24. It gets a little more difficult, and we broaden our definition of what a family is. Even with teens, we have adoptive parents, and we have teachers who can play that role. But with adults more than that, we really depend on partners, friends, college roommates, and spouses.
For those who don’t come with a support person, the first month of treatment really focuses on, How are we going to find at least one support person to help you through your recovery? These are brain disorders, and it’s really hard to fight your brain multiple times a day.
The other thing with adults is that we deal with comorbidities as well. there is more comorbiditiesThe population is more diverse.
MHN: There was a lot of discussion at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic about mental health as well as concerns about it Increased rates of eating disorders. Did you notice an increase? Do you think this is getting better, or is this something we still need to address?
Saffron: No, I think we will continue to see the continuing effects of the pandemic over the next two years. We’ve definitely seen an uptick. Hospitalization for adolescents in particular double throughout the epidemic. Through anecdotal evidence, our clinical partners tell us that children are coming in for treatment worse than ever.
I think two things about the epidemic exacerbated it. First, eating disorders thrive on social isolation. These are a lot of kids who used to be in school and used the temperament traits that made you susceptible to an eating disorder — this type A, perfectionist drive — to focus on schoolwork, hobbies, or extracurricular activities. Now, all this time at home they only focus their attention on themselves and their bodies.
Plus, social media obviously doesn’t help with that. We know that children, on average, spend about seven hours [per day] on their phones. And with the malicious algorithms we see on social media, they are constantly bombarded unreal picturesso frankly horrible horrible Pro-eating disorder content.
And then, finally, we know that with the increasing food insecurity in the community, eating disorders directly go up as well. We’ve definitely seen more of that over the course of the pandemic.
MHN: There was a lot of Investing in digital mental healthEspecially for conditions such as depression and anxiety. Why do you think eating disorder treatment hasn’t been invented much?
Saffron: Honestly, there are many reasons, but I think they all come down to the stigma around eating disorders. People do not understand eating disorders. Most people think it’s a rich white girl’s vanity issue, when we know that couldn’t be further from the truth. Eating disorders affect people equally across race, class, and ethnicity. You can’t really tell that someone has an eating disorder just by looking at them. Then, additionally, they are not choices; It’s not vanity issues. This is strong Genetic and neurobiological foundationsHowever, we still have a lot of stigma towards eating disorders. We still blame the patient.
I think this leads to an area that is severely underfunded. Receive eating disorder research about $9 for each injured person Unlike Alzheimer’s disease, which receives approximately $200 per affected individual or more. When there isn’t a lot of funding, you can’t drive a lot of innovation in the field.
And then, unfortunately, in this kind of vacuum of good care and stigma landscapes, we saw in 2008, when the Mental Health Equity Act was passed, that private property He poured a lot of money In care at the facility. These private equity-backed residential centers, frankly, have the most money in the field to lead the field and the direction they really want to go.
MHN: Therefore, in this funding note, I announced $58 million Series B in February. How has your expansion gone since then, and what are some of your goals for the future?
Saffron: I’m excited to say that one of my biggest goals from the start was to get into all 50 states, plus [Washington] D.C. Two weeks ago, we’re there. We haven’t made the official announcement yet.
Once we started a year ago, we were in four states. And we’ve started moving families across state lines to get sponsorships with us, which is fun, but obviously heartbreaking — unlike why we wanted to start this company, to stay home with your family. So, expanding to 50 states plus the capital was just too huge for us and huge for our mission.
I don’t want any family having to pay out of their pocket. I think we finished 2021 with 86% of families using their in-network benefits. We have made a lot of progress on the contractual side. But it is clear that there is still a lot to do. In particular, with Medicaid, with Medicare where we reach our seniors and with TRICARE as well. I want this to be covered by its payers for everyone.
And then, finally, you hit the big factor, which expands to adults so that this treatment is truly accessible to everyone with an eating disorder. Therefore, we are working as hard as possible on these initiatives.
Then, the last thing I’ll say is that the reason we chose the Chernin group to lead Series B was because we really wanted someone who was going to help us change this cultural narrative about eating disorders. We can’t reach everyone with an eating disorder and get quality treatment if the majority of the population still thinks eating disorders seem like they don’t understand the breadth of their impact. We have to make sure that everyone has access to a diagnosis, and that starts with a lot of psychoeducation about changing the face of eating disorders.