Jack O’Brien speaks with Connie Chan Wang, SVP of marketing at Headspace, about the state of mental health in America, how the company is seeking to expand access to behavioral services and why it’s important to destigmatize mental health.

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From HLTH 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s the MM+M podcast.

I am Jack O’Brien. I’m the digital editor at mmm. I’m pleased to be joined today by

Connie chanway SVP of marketing at headspace

Connie. It’s wonderful to have you on the show first off one to ask you obviously when I think of headspace I think of mental health, I think of calmness Wellness mindfulness, obviously it’s taken off in the past couple years in terms of destigmatizing and really kind of bringing it into the mainstream culture. If you will curious how you kind of perceive how all that’s gone. And what headspace’s role has been in that dynamic.

Yeah, thank you so much for having me. It’s wonderful to be here headspace. I would say over the past decade has really revolutionized the way that people think about mindfulness and meditation. We’ve made it more accessible simple and dare. I say delightful. It’s no longer just about a monkey even though we’re founded by a monk meditating at the top of the mountain and mindfulness and meditation is really for everybody. And where we have a real opportunity is at two years ago two companies came together headspace and ginger. So headspace mindfulness and meditation Ginger is a digital mental health company that has coaching therapy Psychiatry and recently an EAP. So those two companies are now headspace and we offer the full spectrum of mental health care and the real opportunity that we have as a company and as a brand is to really become the definitive brand when you think about mental health and so not just redefining and broadening what people think

That when I think about headspace but really redefining how people think about mental health because right now in society often people think mental health is and only when you have an acute issue you reach out to a therapist but in our perspective, yes, we absolutely want to serve those who have an acute issue but we wanted to find mental health is something that people are taking care of their entire lives starting from when their children all the way through to to when they’re elderly

I appreciate you kind of detailing headspace’s role in this conversation did want to go to the differentiating aspect because like I’ve used headspace for years admittedly not a conflict of interest. I hope but I’ve had friends that use calm that use all these other services and I’m curious how when you look at that like obviously it’s good, you know, high water raises all boats more people are using these Services more people are focusing on mindfulness, but when you’re trying to look and say, hey we offer this or this is our you know, this is our our product value. What does that look like in comparison? How do you differentiate the market?

Yeah, so I would say two things about headspace and the mental health category and how we’re differentiated. The first is that we now actually offer the full Suite of services from mindfulness and meditation to coaching therapy and Psychiatry so that full Suite of services we offer to our B2B clients and their employees and members. So we partner with over 4,000 employers and partners and we provide these services to their employees and their members and that is a big differentiator is that we’ve provide that full spectrum of care. So whether somebody needs a therapist appointment we can offer that in two days or if they really just need to breathe before a podcast interview. They can open up the headspace app and breath for 30 seconds. So that is the big differentiator is that we offer that full spectrum of care the other way in which we have really revolutionized mindfulness and meditation and what we hope to take into Mental Health Care is that

Have met consumers where they are every day. So we partner with some of the biggest brands out there where consumers are spending a lot of time. So the Netflix special from a couple of years ago. Every time I say, I work at headspace people talk about this Netflix show and similar ways. We are broadening those set of Partners. We partnered with LinkedIn my former employer. We also just announced a partnership with meta where we will be in the metaverse a virtual playground for your mind and bringing together Gamers and gen Z into this mindfulness experience as well. So continuing to reach people where they are and to reach people with the message Beyond mindfulness and meditation and to mental health

and I wanted to pick up on that partnership with meta because obviously it’s the news of the day, but also I feel like there’s always been this conversation in the past year. So 18 months about where the opportunities in the metaverse and a lot of people have been like well Healthcare is obviously got to be there but you know, what? What can that mean for a patient on you can’t go there and have you know a surgery on there or some other thing but when you think about therapy or you think about mindfulness that

Kind of like a natural fit.

Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, I people are already particularly gen Z, I think primarily the audiences male and gen Z who are participating in medical Quest.

And what they’re looking for from headspace is a community and an experience that is interactive and engaging and meets them where they are. So if you think about our experience in the metaverse, it really is about bringing that incredible evidence-based content and the science behind our content into that space. So people can take a break from their gaming and be a part of this community in these activities.

Where’s there still room for improvement? Because obviously we talk about the decent destigmatization. I can sit here as you know, a man and obviously there are there are differences when it comes to toxic masculinity and people how how they approach their mental health. That’s still got to be a lingering issue. I imagine in terms of people who actually either go for mindfulness apps or therapy or some sort of services like that.

yeah, I mean there is

So much more opportunity. There was a survey last year with the Kaiser Family Foundation that found that nine out of 10 Americans believe that we are in a mental health crisis. So while covid really exposed the issue it actually also worsened the issue. I think where there’s real opportunity is probably with Gen zenzie is so much more open to the conversation. They’re much more self-aware and they’re really asking employers. They’re asking people around them to have more conversations around mental health that being said, they’re also the most worried about their own mental health. And so we as headspace are reaching out to to gen Z and all the places where they are spending time. So one of the ways in which we’re doing that is through influencers. So there’s this influencer on YouTube called the try guys. And if you just try guys, they try a lot of things we partnered with them to try mindfulness and meditation. And in fact when I went to my primary care

Provider last year. She has gen Z children and mentioned that she heard about headspace for sleep through her gen Z children.

Oh really

and that and they heard about it through the try guys. And now she prescribes prescribes headspace to everybody who comes into her office for Sleep issues. So we are reaching jensey through the through our growth Partnerships and our influencers. We’re also reaching them through tiktok. And then of course through Meta Meta quests and through the metaverse as well.

I was gonna say the times I’ve been scrolling on tiktok and I just seen ad for you or for calm or for any of these Services. It seems that it’s like oh, yeah. It’s like we know that you’re you know at times mindlessly scrolling on this and it’s you know, being able to say take a break and be able to have that breathing exercise or something like that. I imagine there is an implicit value of saying like, hey, we recognize where you are and we’re coming with the service that could be very beneficial for your mental health.

That’s exactly right. I think that was one of our most popular paid placements was the take a break placement to start encourage people to stop schooling and whenever most vir

Posts on tiktok was really a body scan exercise. So it was a very calming short video with clear instructions on how to do a body scan for people to just take a break from from schooling on tiktok.

I am kind of curious too because I know that when I started on headspace, you know, there’s obviously pre-pandemic obviously pandemic worse and everything the Mental Health crisis that you talked about there has been a lot of conversation too about the psychiatrist and it’s like psychologists short that we have across the country where does headspace fit into that because obviously you talk about having resources outside in mindfulness, but I’m sure for a lot of people where it’s like maybe I don’t need to see a therapist. Maybe I don’t need to go the whole nine yards just being able to have that still does help a little bit in terms of alleviating the crisis that we’re in.

Yeah, absolutely. So we definitely have access to therapy and Psychiatry or offer our members access to therapy and Psychiatry. We actually have a fully employed care team of providers. So these are coaches they’re just

So when members come to us and they have an acute need and they need to see a therapist they can get an appointment in two days when they want to talk to a coach they can actually access that coach via text in in under 10 minutes. And so there is access to care at every level and that’s where we want to meet members is wherever they are under on their mental health Journey. We want to meet them to help address the access issue in addition to providing therapy and Psychiatry to our members. We also want to make sure that they’re developing lifelong practices and habits to mental health. So for example in my life

When I found that if therapy it was really when I was in a moment of Crisis, it was seven years ago. I had gone through three back to back miscarriages. I didn’t come from a culture where people really sought mental health. And so when I got to that point when I knew I needed help it was because I was in a pretty desperate State and so I I went through my employers EAP at the time. It was not a good experience. It took me multiple phone calls and multiple phone calls to therapists to find someone who’s available. But when I was finally able to find somebody she changed the course of my entire life and it was at that moment when I realized I should have been doing this a long time ago. Not just the therapy piece, but just taking care of my mind taking care of my mental health and now I have this daily habit of meditation and movement. I see a coach once a week and I know that in the next Crisis moment because it’s bound to come at some point. I have access to a therapist that I trust and know and can rely.

On to help me get out of that moment.

No, you’re talking your message hits home in terms of your own personal Journey how that ties into it speaking to an Irish guy who had panic attacks and then was able to find you know, but you don’t want it to come to that moment of Christ. I think that’s the thing that headspace. I’m sure that that goes into your marketing and saying like don’t wait for it to get so bad you want to be able to cut it off a bit at the past. I imagine that’s what in a large part the marketing effort has to be not only for you. But other Mental Health Services going forward is saying like Hey, we’re not waiting for crisis. We are in the crisis right


That’s exactly right exactly. Right? It’s interesting because a lot of our partners and employers they come to us because their employees and their members are going to them in moments of Crisis. So their first question to us is always the same question you asked around access to therapists and psychiatrists. And that’s the first question. We address right off the bat we say, yes. Absolutely. We can serve those who are in crisis mode, but more importantly than that beyond that moment. We can really Empower them with all of the skill.

Rules and support that they need to manage their entire mental health Journey not just in that in that exact moment.

I am kind of curious when you look at the broader landscape where you see room for improvement in terms of marketing around mental health and mindfulness because again, I think it’s come a long way even over the past like five years. I would say certainly over covid but I imagine that you still looking and say yeah if we could tweak this or maybe if we phrase the conversation like that what sticks out to you on that on that angle?

Yeah, when I look at across the marketing landscape, I think we made so much progress in culture and in society about talking about mental health. I was listening to your podcast on man therapy and they really revolutionize the way that men think about their mental health, but I do still think that they’re continues to be more opportunity for us to be embedded into the everyday lives of how people spend their time. So for example, you know that we are about

Announce this partnership with aura ring.


Aura ring is something an Innovative product that people are using every single day to manage their health in mental health is health. I mean, I think that’s something that we definitely want to get out in our marketing messaging that mental health is health and we want people to experience that in their daily lives. And I think the aura ring partnership is a really good example of how we embed mental health and headspace into people’s everyday lives. So we’re working with aura to give them access to some of our meditation exercises. So body scans breathing exercises muscle relaxation. So that aura members can really find ways to de-stress and get away from chronic stress

and it’s again kind of incorporating like I have my Apple watch here, but it’s being able to incorporate with those wearable Technologies, which I think for a while was like, oh isn’t it cool that you have this but now it really is factoring into a longer more comprehensive look at your at your health, which includes your mental health too


Clay exactly. I think there’s a that’s the direction that is really interesting for us to go and as we think about wearables and Biometrics and how how we can take that into the future.

Awesome. Well Connie, I really appreciate you being on the show being able to talk about everything that headspace has going for in terms of Partnerships and different marketing efforts one ask you since we are in Vegas and you know, everyone’s having a great time at the conference outside of the conference. What do you like to do in your in Vegas? I know for some people it’s shopping. Some people is going to the sports events or going to concerts. What is that for you when it’s coming to Vegas?

Yeah such a great question. It’s I grew up in Southern California. So I spent a lot of my childhood here. My parents would road trip here really once every couple months in my husband used to live here. Okay two years. So I was here at least once a month for two years. My favorite thing. This is not really a Vegas thing. But Vegas is a very accessible spot to a lot of outdoor spaces. So now Charleston nearby so when it gets really hot in the summer going hiking and mount Charleston’s about 20 degrees cooler and then it’s a great location to hop to Zion.

Grand Canyon, so that’s actually my favorite thing to do in Vegas is to get out of Vegas and go into the outdoors.

Awesome. Well, we’ll be keeping track of who says what here I think you might be the first and potentially last, but we’ll see when it comes to hiking or doing outdoor spaces. But again, Connie really appreciate you being on the show best of luck everything that headspace that’s going for it. Maybe we can reconnect somewhere down the line.

Sounds great. Thank you Jack. Appreciate you.