May 18, 2024
A Life Raft for Women

Photo: LunaJoy

"LunaJoy was a play off of lunar phases because women go through different phases throughout their life, and they're all pieces of a greater whole, and joy was really to evoke what we're hoping women feel," says Shama Rathi.

NextGen

A Life Raft for Women

Two psychiatrists make strides in mental health services for women

Nancy Dahlberg | 2/12/2023

The Co-Founders
Sipra Laddha, 36; Shama Rathi, 36
LunaJoy, St. Petersburg

Hitting Home

Sipra Laddha and Shama Rathi are psychiatrists, but when each of them struggled with mental health issues during or after their pregnancies, even they had trouble finding the professional help they needed.

They discovered there was no mental health safety net for women, says Laddha, who encountered difficulties in a high-risk pregnancy with twins, which occurred during her medical residency. After finishing the residency, she set up a private practice to treat women — and saw demand surge. “There's a lot of suffering that is normalized for women, and there's not very many mental health resources and support available during these very vulnerable transitions.”

Rathi, her sister-in-law and a child and adolescent psychiatrist, was seeing a similar trend while working in psychiatry telehealth in rural areas of the country and in her own postpartum mental health. “Women are the bedrock of society, so when women aren't well, families aren't well, their kids aren’t well, their parents suffer — it affects everything,” says Rathi.

Finding a Solution

Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data that showed 84% of pregnancy-related deaths were preventable and that mental health conditions were a leading underlying cause of the deaths. Just over half of the deaths in the CDC’s research of 2017-19 cases occurred seven to 365 days postpartum.

Less than 15% of women's mental health needs are being addressed, says Laddha. “Most women don't even get treatment for 10 years after they start developing symptoms. There's a huge gap in our care, and we just have to get started somewhere.”

With the pandemic accelerating the mental health crisis, Laddha and Rathi decided to start a digital health network that would enable women to easily access personalized and comprehensive mental health care from home.

LunaJoy is focused on the 33 million women in the U.S. who experience depression, anxiety or other mental health disorders. Symptoms often surface during transition periods — fertility, pregnancy and postpartum, for example — but could often be detected earlier, the co-founders say.

To identify potential underlying issues, LunaJoy is partnering with OB-GYN offices to offer mental health screenings, Rathi says. “We really want to be having these conversations earlier, not really when things hit the fan.”

While maternal transitions may have been the initial focus, LunaJoy is increasingly focusing on perimenopause. “Women within the ages 40 to 50 actually have the most significant suicide numbers and tend to be the most overlooked cohort. We're seeing a lot of mental health struggles.”

The company offers a virtual mental health care clinic for women throughout their life span: Puberty, pregnancy, postpartum, infertility, miscarriage, perimenopause, menopause and aging. The company provides specialized in-network therapy, psychiatry, medication management and group coaching. The sessions may be covered by insurance, including Optum/United Healthcare, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna, Aetna, Humana, Medicare and Medicaid.

Springboard

Laddha and Rathi launched their telehealth clinic in October 2021 after creating a training program for their care providers — physicians, therapists and wellness coaches.

These first-time entrepreneurs knew they needed to learn more about building and scaling a company. Early last year, the two graduated from the Silicon Valley startup accelerator Y-Combinator as part of a cohort of digital health startups. “We learned a ton,” says Laddha. After finishing the accelerator program, they raised $2.4 million in venture capital and joined Tampa Bay Wave's TechDiversity Accelerator as part of a cohort of 15 international startups.

Growing

Today, LunaJoy, with a staff of 12 and with 24 health care providers on its platform, has been growing 20% to 30% month over month, Laddha says. “Our focus is increasing our footprint — 10xing or 20xing the number of offices we are in to meet women where they are already within the health system.” The company now operates in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Alaska, New Jersey, California and Illinois. “The women we impact, they're so inspiring,” says Rathi. “We hear from a lot of them after they’ve finally gotten connected to care with a clinician who really understands what they are going through.”

Bucking the Odds

LunaJoy is a rare breed: Florida startups founded by women attracted only 1.1% of the capital flowing to the state in 2022, according to venture data tracker Pitchbook.

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