DIP 002: Opportunism and anxiety

Plus: Instagram bait at the mall, Foot Locker makes moves, and parsnips

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The Chips 🍄

The Dip 💎

Hims and Hers (Thems? Theirs?) are now selling beta blockers as a tool to combat social and performance-related anxiety. Beta blockers inhibit the effects of epinephrine, the hormone that triggers a fight-or-flight reaction. Beta blockers are most often used to combat hypertension, congestive heart failure, and arrhythmia.

They can be prescribed as a short-term fix for anxiety, too. In fact, Hims isn’t even the first telemedicine company to do so — Kick has been around since 2017ish. But studies into the effects of propranolol (the active ingredient in beta blockers) and anxiety have produced mixed results (see A). It's also worth noting that beta blockers can induce depression, which often goes hand in hand with anxiety to begin with…

Hims set out to provide backdoor, telemedicine solutions to "awkward" conversations with your doctor about sex (which, hello, please find yourself a doctor with whom you can comfortably speak about things that make you uncomfortable). This latest product marks a departure from that, and in a way that strikes me as problematic.

The Anxiety Economy

In selling beta blockers, Hims is profiting off of anxiety, and society’s misperceptions of what it means to struggle with anxiety, while not contributing to any sort of meaningful solution. Propranolol is a bandaid, plain and simple.

Yes, therapy is often cost prohibitive. Digital solutions, whether texting a real person or a chatbot, are a step in the right direction. Quartz Obsession explored chatbot therapy and acknowledged that while more research needs to be done, AI therapy can be really effective. Or maybe it’s just better than nothing.

A Better Model

Brightside is a telemedicine platform for people struggling with depression. Treatment begins with a quiz to evaluate your symptoms. Brightside then explains what your results mean and offers you two non mutually exclusive solutions: free digital CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy — a habit- and goal-oriented form of therapy) or doctor-prescribed antidepressants. The digital CBT is self-guided, with weekly lessons and biweekly check-ins to compare against your baseline numbers. Brightside doesn’t lead with a prescription, but it’s there if you want it.

It’s not a perfect solution — holding patients accountable and encouraging them to put lessons into practice is really hard — but it’s a big step in the right direction, and far more effective than how Hims is approaching mental health solutions.

Services like Octave (therapy, life coach services, and mindfulness classes), Alma (WeWork-ish), and Two Chairs (therapy with an AirSpace aesthetic) operate in a similar space and seek to make therapy less fraught — friendly serif typefaces and all. It’s a great idea, but a well-designed office has no bearing on efficacy. That’s a matter of patient-provider match.

Real Talk

Propranolol can’t cure anxiety. Neither can therapy. For most people, anxiety isn’t an on-or-off thing. It fluctuates. Sometimes day to day, sometimes minute to minute. Maybe it’s humming in the background or maybe it’s screaming in your face, but it’s almost always there. What’s important — and what can help! — is having a set of tools to better manage that anxiety (or, at the very least, acknowledge its presence).

I say this knowing full well that each person is different, and each person’s anxiety manifests itself differently. For some, CBT is all it takes. For others, prescription drugs may be the only thing getting them out of bed in the morning.

With a $1B valuation and new $100MM series C, Hims is in a position to define what telemedicine is and can become. Here’s hoping that it’s something rooted in holistic care and meaningful solutions, not quick fix generic drugs and easy transactions…

Still Hungry?

Real Dip 🐚

Parsnip skordalia from Bon Appetit. Try it with fluffy pita, miscellaneous roasted, not-parsnip vegetables, and a jammy egg.

I don't like parsnips. But I recently read something that suggested that not liking a particular food often comes down to the way it was prepared. I have found this to be true on several occasions, one of which was an incredibly intimate dinner for six people prepared by Faviken's Magnus Nilsson, during which he served a pine-smoked scallop that made me question every other scallop I’ve tried and hated. (Also, yes, this is me bragging, thank you for noticing.)

So I decided to give parsnips a shot in a different format: dip. And it was good! If nothing else, consider this recipe further proof that adding cheese makes most things better…

Thanks for snacking,

— Emily 🐛