Oxford VR establishes first-of-kind VR-enabled mental health solutions in Asia

The ‘Yes I Can’ programme provides each participant with six to eight 30-minute VR sessions over a period of three to six weeks.
By Dean Koh
11:58 pm
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Credit: AXA HK

Oxford VR, an Oxford University spinout company, has announced the launch of its leading-edge treatment for common mental health conditions through a unique partnership with AXA HK and the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK).

Dubbed ‘Yes I Can’, the initiative will offer a ground-breaking 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.

The programme provides each participant with six to eight 30-minute VR sessions over a period of three to six weeks. It is intended for use by adults who are aged 18 or above, and the localised version will be offered in both English and Cantonese.

Prior to the launch of the initiative, AXA HK, CUHK and Oxford VR launched a clinically-validated pilot in April using a modern VR technology platform for managing common mental health issues, such as social avoidance, anxiety and depressive symptoms, in people's daily lives and work.

WHY IT MATTERS

A new survey conducted by YouGov in June 2019 shows that 71% of the respondents have experienced at least one symptom of social avoidance due to anxiety and depression, such as avoiding social gathering, finding difficulties in giving a presentation/talk at work or social interaction with unfamiliar people due to anxiety or stress. 64% of youngsters aged 18-24, in particular, have found inability to interact with strangers/unfamiliar people. 

And one in every 8 (13%) Hong Kong people feels unable to discuss the mental wellbeing matter with anyone, and among them, 36% of them think that discussing mental wellbeing could change how others perceive them, whereas 27% say they cannot afford the time or money to seek professional mental health services.

In Hong Kong and China, there is a shortage of a trained workforce to cater to the huge unmet need. One million people in Hong Kong and 173 million people in China suffer from common mental health conditions. It takes around three years to see a psychiatrist for six minutes in Hong Kong, with 4.39 psychiatrists per 100,000 people, while in China, the ratio is 2.2 psychiatrists per 100,000 people. 

The World Health Organisation 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.

ON THE RECORD

“This is a solution whose time has come, and we are very excited to collaborate with AXA Hong Kong and CUHK to launch this social avoidance treatment programme. Technology holds the key to making high-quality mental health care more patient-centred and accessible,” said Barnaby Perks, Chief Executive Officer of Oxford VR in a statement.

Gordon Watson, Chief Executive Officer of AXA Asia, said, “As a lifelong health partner, AXA strives to offer innovative solutions to promote people's wellbeing in Asia. While there is a growing awareness of the importance of mental health, nearly two-third of respondents (68%) admitted that there is still a stigma associated with having a mental health condition preventing people talking about it and getting professional help.” 

“CUHK is committed to translating academic research into practical solutions, addressing societal needs and global challenges. Mental health is definitely one of our key areas of concern. Our faculty members from various disciplines have been working on multiple innovative research projects and community service programmes aiming at improving mental well-being of our students and the community at large,” said Professor Rocky S. Tuan Vice-Chancellor / President, CUHK.