Oxford VR, a global pioneer in developing virtual reality-enabled therapy building on clinical research by Daniel Freeman, Professor of Clinical Psychology at Oxford University, has launched its treatment for common mental health conditions through a unique partnership with AXA HK and the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). The initiative called ‘Yes I Can’, will offer a treatment using virtual reality (VR) technology. It will be free to the public and to AXA’s corporate customers as part of their employee benefits services to drive better mental health outcomes in Asia.
In Hong Kong, one in seven people has a mental health problem such as anxiety and depression, a new survey reveals. 71 per cent of the respondents have experienced at least one symptom of social avoidance due to anxiety or depression, such as avoiding a social gathering, having to do a presentation/talk at work or interacting with a stranger due to anxiety or stress. Conducted by YouGov, the survey also shows that one in eight (13% say they would be unable to have a conversation about a mental wellbeing issue with a partner or close family member. The main reasons cited are 36% of them think that discussing mental wellbeing could change how others perceive them, whereas 27% say they can’t afford the time or money to seek professional mental health services.
Barnaby Perks, CEO at Oxford VR said: “This is a solution whose time has come, and we are very excited to collaborate with AXA Hong Kong and CUHK to launch our VR treatment programme. Technology holds the key to making high-quality mental health care more patient-centred and accessible. This strategic partnership with AXA HK and The Chinese University of Hong Kong exemplifies our global leadership role in creating ground-breaking, clinically-validated, VR-enabled mental health solutions which have the capacity to bring unprecedented change to healthcare outcomes in the region.”
The programme’s focus will be on people struggling with stress, worry and low mood. Stress is an inevitable part of daily working life, but when it gets out of control it can lead to reduction in mood and increased worry which, over time, can turn into anxiety and depression, with intrusive thoughts leading to withdrawal and avoidance of social situations in the mistaken belief that interaction with others is the cause. But this withdrawal leads to lower mood and greater anxiety in a vicious cycle. Oxford VR says its evidence-based approach breaks and reverses this vicious cycle using VR to enable users to challenge their intrusive thoughts through positive experiences from social tasks guided by a virtual avatar coach in various virtual environments.
Gordon Watson, Chief Executive Officer of AXA Asia said “Yes I Can’ is about changing the status quo by offering a highly innovative and high-quality mental health solution free to members of the public in need and to our corporate customers as part of their employee benefits services free access. We aim to changes lives in Asia, with Hong Kong pioneering this initiative in breaking new ground.”
“CUHK is committed to translating our excellent academic research to address global challenges and benefit humanity. Applying automation and VR technology to treatment can increase the accessibility of mental health services in a format that the public may find less stigmatizing and much easier to embrace. By building up an evidence base of VR therapeutic experience in the Chinese context, we hope to expand the pioneering mental health services delivery modes in Hong Kong and Greater China.” said Professor Rocky S. Tuan Vice-Chancellor / President, CUHK.
In Hong Kong and China, there is a shortage of trained professionals to cater to the huge unmet mental health care need. One million people in Hong Kong and 173 million people in China suffer from common mental health conditions. It takes around 3 years to see a psychiatrist for 6 minutes in Hong Kong, with 1.49 psychiatrists per 100,000 people, and in China it’s 2.02 per 100,000. The WHO recommends a ratio of 10:100,000. The programme under Yes I Can does not require a highly trained professional to operate the service as the delivery of consistently high-quality treatment is already built into the programme.
The Yes I Can initiative provides participants with six to eight 30-minute VR sessions over a period of 3 to 6 weeks. It is intended for use by adults who are 18 or above, and the localised version will be offered in both English and Cantonese. The partnership under AXA Hong Kong, CUHK and Oxford VR also includes a clinical research study which involves the recruitment of more than 250 members of the public as participants.