Caring about your emotional wellbeing is as important as physical health, but the issue is often stigmatized in Asia. Intellect, a Singapore-based startup, wants to make the mental health idea more accessible with an app that offers self-directed exercises based on cognitive behavior therapy techniques.
The company develops consumer and enterprise versions of the app (which employers can offer as an advantage) and now has users in countries such as Singapore, Indonesia, India and China.
Since the beta launch earlier this year, says co-founder and CEO Theodoric Chew Intellect has registered about 10,000 users and 10 companies from startups to large companies. The startup plans to launch the Indonesian versions of Mandarin and Bahasa and is currently working with researchers to develop localized versions of its exercises, including guided journaling, behavioral exercises, and “rescue sessions” with short audio clips on topics such as stress and low self-esteem, emotional burnout, and sleep disorders .
The company has launched a pre-seed round that included SEEDS Capital, the investment arm of Enterprise Singapore, a government agency that supports entrepreneurship.
In the U.S. and Europe, there is a growing number of self-help apps that help users learn coping strategies for common mental health problems, including Headspace, MoodKit, Moodnotes, Sanvello, and Happify, to name just a few. But space is still emerging in Asia.
Before Intellect was launched, Chew was head of Affiliate Growth and Content Marketing at Voyagin, a travel booking marketplace that Rakuten acquired in 201
“I have been to anxiety therapy quite often and there is still a lot of social stigma in Asia and there are not many tools. A lot of work is going on in the US and Europe, but it is evolving in Asia,” said Chew TechCrunch.
He added: “Most people shy away from mentioning mental health. We see a lot of it in Asia, but if we do it differently, how we work on personal issues like low self-esteem or self-confidence, we see a huge change in how people open up. “
Intellect was developed with the feedback from psychologists, but Chew emphasizes that it is not a substitute for professional therapy. Instead, it should give people an accessible way to take care of their mental health, especially in cultures where the subject is still very stigmatized. The exercises in the app deal with bad mood and fear, but also with common problems in the workplace and interpersonal problems such as developing assertiveness and dealing with criticism.
The corporate version of the app can be customized with exercises tailored to people in different industries. It is aimed at startups and other SMEs that do not have the type of Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) that larger companies can offer. These often include mental health resources such as support hotlines and referrals to mental health providers.
The consumer app typically charges a flat monthly fee that gives full access to all features. However, Intellect is making them free during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Finally, the startup hopes to build a network of mental health professionals that users can connect to within the app.
“We proceed so that the therapy applies not only to clinically depressed people, but to everyone,” said Chew. “In three to five years, we want to do therapy every day in order to tackle everyday problems. We also want to address more clinical issues, but we believe that most people can benefit when it comes to tackling everyday issues with CBT-based methods. “