Company Launches To Combat Loneliness Through Virtual Peer Support Groups

Peer support groups can be a helpful crutch for people in need of empathy and […]

Peer support groups can be a helpful crutch for people in need of empathy and social connection. But groups for individuals’ specific needs aren’t always easy to come by. Forum, a marketplace for peer support groups, aims to combat this issue after launching today with $5.3 million in seed funding.

“Peer support groups exist in pockets and they’re hard to find,” said Dr. Rajiv Kumar, CEO of Forum, in an interview. “They’re often in person and it can be intimidating to show up and not know who’s going to be there. It may be inconvenient for you to find a group at the time and day when you’re available. By bringing them online, and by removing all geographic barriers, we think we have an opportunity to really create these groups at scale.”

Forum offers peer support groups for a range of topics, including grief, loneliness, chronic conditions, substance use, caregiving and relationships. The groups meet via video on a regular basis, including weekly and bi-weekly. They are also led by facilitators who often have experience in the topic area of the support group. These facilitators are vetted based on their previous experience, and undergo training from Forum, according to Kumar.

The company is initially targeting consumers with its marketplace, and users are charged a monthly fee once they join a peer support group. However, the monthly fee differs depending on the group. While Forum is starting direct-to-consumer, the startup aims to work with payers, employers and health systems in the future, Kumar said.

The $5.3 million in financing was led by NextView Ventures and included participation from MBX Capital, Cue Ball Capital and City Light Capital. With the funding, the company is focused on “building the most scalable approaches to adding peer groups to this marketplace,” said Lee Pichette, president of Forum, in an interview.

Forum’s launch comes at a time when about 17% of U.S. adults, or 44 million people, are experiencing loneliness. This signifies that there is something wrong with the way mental health is treated in the U.S.

“Our behavioral health ecosystem is unsatisfactory,” Kumar declared. “It’s not sufficient. It’s not able to keep up with the demand. There’s a shortage of mental health clinicians and mental health resources available to address the needs of our society. Beyond that, it’s not just a clinical problem. It’s a social problem. Our social fabric is fraying. We have far fewer connections than we used to.”

Another company working to combat loneliness is Peppermint, which launched in July and was built at Redesign Health, a healthcare innovation company. But unlike Forum, it focuses on older adults and connects them to others through online clubs and workshops. Another company is Patients Like Me, which connects patients to others with similar conditions. For those looking for peer support groups specifically, individuals are typically going to Facebook groups, according to Kumar.

While Forum is starting in the U.S., the company aims to expand globally in the future, Kumar added.

“We see a future where people anywhere in the world and time zone can join Forum and find a group of others going through the exact same situation that they are in,” he said. “And it may be a group of people in lots of different countries all coming together. I think that’s something so special and kind of missing today in our society.”

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