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This 25-year-old S’porean built an app to promote mental health – saw 2.5M users in 2 years

It’s no surprise that since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the topic of mental health has been at the forefront of many conversations. While that is an encouraging sign, the discussion surrounding mental health in our Asian context does differ slightly.

It might surprise many that mental health does look very different in the East as opposed to the West. Even though we are informed about terms like ‘self-care’ and recognise that we might be languishing, there are still issues that need to be addressed in terms of accessibility, stigma, and perception when it comes to mental health.

With these in mind, Theodoric Chew, the 25-year-old CEO and co-founder of Intellect app sought to bridge these gaps and normalise caring for one’s mental wellbeing.

How Intellect came about

Founder of Intellect, Theodoric Chew
Theodoric Chew CEO and co-founder of Intellect / Image credit: Intellect

Before building the app in 2019, Theodoric first identified three challenges facing the mental health scene.

One of the most important factors is the cost. After all, it’s no secret that seeking therapists or psychologists cost a pretty penny. In fact, seeking professional help is still a luxury that not everyone can afford.

The second issue and biggest issue, as Theodoric puts it, is the stigma surrounding mental health. “Asians typically see mental health as an extreme case scenario, relating therapy to things like schizophrenia and even suicidal thoughts,” he explained.

The last hurdle is the shortage of mental health practitioners across the region. Apparently, Singapore has one of the lowest supplies in comparison to many other developed cities around the world.

With all these in mind, Theodoric decided that a mental health app like Intellect is needed now more than ever.

Besides trying to fill those gaps, Theodoric also has a personal stake in creating Intellect. During his younger years, Theodoric has gone through his fair share of mental health challenges with anxiety and panic attacks.

I was fortunate enough to have access to therapy which not only helped me cope with these issues, but also helped me become a better version of myself. That experience made me realise the importance of mental health well-being and having accessibility to the required care.

– Theodoric Chew, CEO and co-founder of Intellect

With his personal experience and glaring shortfalls of Asia’s mental health space, building an app like Intellect was a no-brainer. So, how exactly does the app attempt to bridge these gaps?

How Intellect benefits both businesses and the individuals

intellect app
Screenshots of Intellect app / Image Credit: Intellect

Intellect offers an end-to-end, 24/7 mental healthcare system in a single app.

The team focused on two objectives, scaling accessibility to support no matter what is needed and shifting the narrative of mental health.

“We’re educating users that mental wellbeing is for everyone. You don’t need to be in a critical state to start working on who you are,” said Theodoric.

Indeed, what Intellect is trying to do is to emphasise that everyone is on a mental health spectrum that ranges from healthy to moderate and clinical, and mental health should be treated with equal importance as physical health.

Most of the population is typically in the moderate range and experiences the typical stress, anxiety and burnout which are part and parcel of everyday life. Our mission is, therefore, to destigmatise mental health in Asia, and educate the masses that mental healthcare is for everyone

– Theodoric Chew, CEO and co-founder of Intellect

Besides that, Intellect is also focused on building a better you. The app focuses on fostering resilience and helping users not only improve but excel as an individual.

Like all good things, the inner work that Intellect wants users to do takes time and effort. Intellect starts by helping them be more self-aware of where they are on the mental health spectrum and understanding what their key needs and concerns are.

Self-care and management are then able to become more directed and effective with a deeper level of self-awareness.

Theodoric went on to liken self-care to taking vitamins for one’s mental health, which can help boost resilience.

“Our self-help and skills building program, therefore, focuses on proactive care which helps reduce the escalation towards the clinical spectrum.”

Enhancing mental health in the workplace

facebook singapore office
Image Credit: Facebook Singapore

Intellect doesn’t seek to just help an individual with their mental wellbeing. It also works with organisations to provide clinically-based digitised therapy programmes and behavioural health coaching, alongside telehealth services.

The pandemic has made companies in Asia become more sensitive and aware of the importance of their employees’ mental wellbeing. Organisations have come to realise that their employees’ workplace satisfaction and productivity are connected to their mental health and wellbeing.

– Theodoric Chew, CEO and co-founder of Intellect

The demand for organisations to take care of their employees is now at an all-time high. Theodoric has seen services for Intellect on the business-to-business (B2B) front with an engagement rate 30 times higher than employee assistance programmes’ (EAPs) utilisation rate. 

Covid-19 has clearly engendered major shifts in the way we work and changed our relationship with it. Many organisations have revised their work arrangements with some going completely remote, while some adopt the hybrid style of working.

With all these changes and uncertainty, it’s no wonder why we are also going through a mental health crisis of sorts. In the Asia Pacific, mental health problems are the second-largest health issue in terms of years lost to disability.

“On an organisational level, employees’ mental wellbeing is directly linked to their productivity and satisfaction at work. On the economic level, it can pose a huge health burden,” said Theodoric firmly.

“In Singapore alone, nine in 10 people reported a decline in mental health since the pandemic hit us.”

When it comes to hustle culture, no one wears the badge of working all the time more proudly than Singaporeans. It’s not a stretch to say that quite a number of us don’t have the healthiest relationship with work. With the pandemic, those lines get even blurrier and our lives are utterly consumed by it.

With suicide rates reaching an all-time high in eight years, our mental health becomes a more pressing issue than ever.

A vote of confidence and future plans

Intellect is now one of the fastest-growing mental health tech companies across Asia and the world.

To date, it has crossed 2.5 million app users and signed more than 20 enterprise clients to its corporate mental health benefits solution.

In 2020, Google also named Intellect as one of the five best personal growth apps of the year. 

Also, the app has raised US$3 million (S$4.1 million) funding thus far. Its recent Pre-Series A funding round earlier in August was led by existing investor Insignia Ventures Partners, along with new investors Y Combinator and XA Network.

Investment also came from new and existing angel investors including Rainforest co-founder and CEO JJ Chai, Prenetics & CircleDNA founder and CEO Danny Yeung, Google Global HR Operations Director Gilberto Gaeta, and other big tech executives, along with family office funds.

It is definitely a vote of confidence for Intellect and the mental health scene in Singapore and Asia.

We will use the funds to expand our presence across Asia Pacific, grow our team, and onboard more experts. We are witnessing soaring demand in this space as societies and organisations are becoming more aware and supportive of proactive mental healthcare.

Hence, we aim to invest in refining our product to best fit our users’ needs across Asia.

– Theodoric Chew, CEO and co-founder of Intellect

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Featured Image Credit: Intellect

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