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A Protector of Women’s Mental Health

May/28/2023 / by Pratika Yashaswi

With $2.4 m in funding, Dr. Sipra Laddha’s LunaJoy is going places

Dr. Sipra Laddha
Dr. Sipra Laddha

When Dr. Sipra Laddha endured a high-risk pregnancy without her doctors mentioning a word about mental health support, it occurred to her that few health care professionals understood women’s health.

As a perinatal psychiatrist, she later founded LunaJoy with her sister-in-law Shama Rathi, a child and adolescent psychiatrist. LunaJoy helps women receive personalized mental health care, supporting women at each life stage, from puberty to menopause. The platform offers services such as medication management and genetic testing to help women understand their personal health outcomes. LunaJoy is a Y Combinator-backed startup and was recently featured in Forbes for its contributions to women’s health.

Congratulations on raising $2.4m in funding! It’s amazing to see so much support for women-centric holistic health. Why did you decide to start LunaJoy?

I have four amazing kids, including a set of twins, and they have been my biggest motivators in building LunaJoy. In my years of clinical experience, I have seen women’s health concerns being repeatedly ignored, and the downstream effects of this neglect. This solidified my belief in the need for LunaJoy’s mission to empower women to take control of their health and wellness.

What was it like going through pregnancy as a perinatal psychiatrist and experiencing mental health challenges?

Going through a high-risk pregnancy with my twins and undergoing perinatal certification at the Emory Women’s Health Clinic was fascinating. Women were waiting 6-9 months to see me at the clinic, while I was undergoing a high-risk pregnancy myself. Despite seeing every specialist under the sun, including a cardiologist and a maternal-fetal medicine specialist, not one of them inquired about my mental health! It wasn’t until six weeks after my delivery that my OBGYN finally screened me for mental health challenges. He commented on how challenging it was to screen women for depression or anxiety. He said he had nowhere to refer them when they tested positive. Navigating my own pregnancy and postpartum period, along with the lack of attention to mental health in women’s health care, got my wheels turning about the need for LunaJoy.

What obstacles did the health care system pose for you at the time?

Navigating the health care system has been an ongoing struggle for me. Unfortunately, it’s a common experience for many women. One of the biggest hurdles I’ve faced is finding health care providers who understand the nuances of women’s health.  I’ve often been referred to physicians who lack the expertise or experience to grasp my experiences and concerns. This is a larger issue that points to a gap in traditional health training that inadequately addresses women’s health issues. On top of that, women’s concerns are often overlooked or ignored altogether. The second challenge is limited availability of health care providers who accept my insurance, leaving me with hefty out-of-pocket expenses.

How does LunaJoy overcome these challenges and remain accessible and inclusive to all women, regardless of their socio-economic background?

We have been bullish about providing specialized care that is in-network with health insurance from the get-go. It is hard to find a women’s mental health specialist who is in network with insurance (including Medicaid!). If you do find that person there is usually months long waitlist. With a majority of births happening on Medicaid in this country we wanted to make sure we were increasing access for all.

It seems like you have a lot going on in terms of programs. What’s working well and what’s not?

We have a model that allows women to access different levels of care. These range from medication management and individual therapy to group therapy, coaching, and peer support, all under one integrated framework. Therapy and medication management are well-understood components of our current health care ecosystem, and are reimbursed by health insurance.

However, coaching has been challenging, as it is not typically covered by insurance. This is frustrating, as the health care ecosystem is focused on treating what is wrong rather than prevention. Many women experience mild symptoms and could benefit from coaching or skills training. This prevents or reduces future symptoms before they escalate to require clinical services. Unfortunately, insurance does not cover coaching, and most cannot afford to pay for these services out of pocket. Good news: we are actively working with payers to change this. This could have a significant impact on changing the narrative of mental health from reactive to preventative.

Do you have any advice for young women aspiring to be doctors?

Health care is evolving at an unprecedented rate! It’s an exciting time to be pursuing a career in medicine. The industry is at an inflection point. There are new technologies, policies, and cultural attitudes shaping the future of health care in this country. It’s more important than ever for strong clinical leaders to emerge and help guide these changes in a positive direction! My advice to young women aspiring to be doctors is never to underestimate the power of their voices and their unique perspective.

As a woman in medicine, you have the opportunity to bring new ideas, compassion, and diversity to the field. Don’t be afraid to speak up and share your opinions, even if they challenge the status quo. Embrace your role as a clinical leader and create positive change in health care delivery. What we can continue to empower through health!

Is there anything you’d like to add that I’ve not asked about?

It has been incredible working in an industry where women have historically been underrepresented and underfunded. In building a women’s health company, no less!. We are standing on the shoulders of giants – entrepreneurs, physicians, and mentors who have created a foundation to build upon. Our mission is to continue this and empower women to take control of their health and wellness. We want to to support and uplift the next generation of women entrepreneurs in health care.

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