Google taps Headspace executive to lead tech-driven mental health efforts

Google is ramping up its focus on mental health and has brought in former Headspace CEO Megan Jones Bell to lead its consumer-facing effort.

Bell, the former head of strategy and science at Headspace, a meditation app that has just merged with behavioral health company Ginger, is joining Google as clinical director of consumer and mental health, the tech giant announced Tuesday.

She will oversee Google’s approach to mental and behavioral health and will lead a team of doctors and health experts that support a number of the tech giant’s consumer products, according to a Google spokesperson. Bell will start her new position this week.

Bell previously worked with Google as a mental health consultant, and hiring signs suggest the tech giant is deepening its investment in behavioral health.

A Google spokesperson noted the company’s multiple mental health initiatives and product features across the company, including connecting people to reliable, actionable information and resources on YouTube as well as its maps and search features.

RELATED: HLTH21: DeSalvo says bringing health into all of Google’s efforts opens door to ‘billions’ of healthy consumers

Google has also developed clinically validated screening tools for depression, PTSD, and postpartum depression. This past May during the onset of the pandemic, Google partnered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness to launch their latest anxiety screening device, which included medically verified information about anxiety, including common symptoms and treatments.

Google has also launched a number of features, resources, and partnerships in recent years around drug use (Recover Together) and supporting people in their recovery.

Fitbit, the wearable company now owned by Google, has expanded available tools that help people manage their daily mental health and well-being, such as mindfulness tools, according to the spokesperson.

Bell’s appointment follows a restructuring of Google’s health division, which underwent two rearrangements this summer that resulted in division chief David Feinberg, MD, jumping ship to lead health information technology company Cerner. The tech giant is moving away from a unified health strategy, and the company’s health-focused projects will now be split across myriad Google teams and departments.

Related: Google says health projects will continue even while dedicated health section unpacks

Despite the organizational change, Chief Health Officer Karen DeSalvo, MD, said during the HLTH 2021 conference last week that the company had done nothing but scale back its health efforts.

DeSalvo said her team now guides Google on the health components of reliable information services, its regulated medical products, and the health and safety of its employees.

“Our overall goal… is to help billions around the world be healthy – and that is a big and bold goal,” said DeSalvo.

During HLTH, DeSalvo identified three main areas to focus on Google’s health initiatives: trusted information and tools to help people manage their health and well-being, and technology solutions to transform care delivery, including developing the use of artificial intelligence to screen and diagnose disease and community health with a focus on using data and insights to provide context of how people’s health is affected by where they work, live and play.

Bell will join the DeSalvo team, which supports Google Health, and its company-wide health-focused effort that includes Google Search, Maps, YouTube, Fitbit, Cloud, and AI health research. A company spokesperson clarified that Google Health is not a single team or product, but rather spans across the company and includes its products and services for consumers, clinicians, and public health.

Bell trained as a psychologist and researcher, with a focus on rigorous evaluation of mental health interventions, including randomized controlled trials of digital therapies. She was the chief science officer and scientific founder of Lantern, an evidence-based digital mental health company whose primary intellectual property has become part of Omada Health, Ginger, and others, according to her LinkedIn profile.

At Headspace, she has also led Headspace’s business, including go-to-market product development, healthcare business development, and partnership efforts.

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