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How one Thai startup is tackling mental illness stigma: Startup Stories

Written by Thu Huong Le Published on   4 mins read

It’s okay. Let’s talk.

The first words you see on Ooca’s website are these: It’s okay. Let’s talk.

That’s the message that Ooca’s founder Kanpassorn Suriyasangpetch wants to deliver to people who are in need of mental health services.

The 30-year-old graduate of Chiang Mai University founded Ooca in 2017. It’s now an aspiring online mental health platform in Thailand that lets users book appointments with psychologists and psychiatrists for video call sessions through its app.

Ooca’s founder Kanpassorn “Eix” Suriyasangpetch. Photo courtesy of Ooca.

Dissolving stigma

Suriyasangpetch, who goes by Eix, had the idea to set up a service like Ooca after encountering difficulties in her own search for mental health support. Four years ago, while working as a dentist for the Royal Thai Army, she needed time with a psychiatrist. She found out that her name would remain on waiting lists for months. Then, she had to travel to Bangkok for treatment—a six-hour journey—before sitting for hours inside the clinic awaiting her turn.

“I felt that there are a lot of struggles that push people away from getting help—it’s not just about accessibility but also the stigma around this issue,” Eix said. “So we try to create a bridge between the psychiatrist and the user, because what really matters is the real conversation.”

Eix said the name Ooca is intended to be a blank slate, so it doesn’t “scare people off.” The team came up with Ooca because it’s easy to pronounce and remember, but not generic. More importantly, it rhymes with “okay.”

Operating only in Thailand for now, Ooca currently has more than 80 licensed psychiatrists and psychologists on board. Many of them either work for private hospitals or are teaching professionals. So far, Ooca has served about 60,000 users. About 4,000 counselling sessions have been conducted over the app.

Users can register anonymously and schedule video calls with their chosen mental healthy professional for 30-minute counselling sessions, which are priced at THB 1,000–1,500 (USD 33–50) each. “You don’t have to reveal your identity with the provider and can go by any nickname you like,” Eix said. “Sometimes users don’t just see us as a place where they can heal or as a place to talk with doctors. They see us as a professional friend.”

Eix added that some clients use the platform in combination with in-person visits to psychiatrists, because they also prefer having longer counselling sessions in the comfort of their own homes. The users can rate and provide feedback to the psychiatrist or psychologist, and the conversation between them is strictly confidential.

In the beginning, it was challenging to convince licensed practitioners to offer their services on Ooca, but after Eix managed to convince a reputable psychiatrist in Thailand to use the platform, it became much easier to recruit other providers once news about the startup spread through word of mouth and press coverage.

Now, to ensure Ooca’s clients receive the best possible care, Eix’s team has a seven-stage process to recruit new mental health professionals.

Bundling services for mental healthcare in corporates

Aside from utilizing the B2C model, Ooca also offers packages to corporations. According to Eix, 70% of its revenues actually come from contracts with business entities that prioritize the mental health of their employees.

Besides counseling services, Ooca also offers tests, surveys, and feedback based on anonymized data to help their corporate clients’ HR teams figure out what’s going on in the minds of employees and where the highest stress levels exist within companies.

Eix said competition in this space comes from various sources, including Employee Assistance Program providers, telemedicine companies, and conventional hospitals. But she is convinced that many of them can also become partners. Additionally, Ooca has been working with universities and the Ministry of Health in Thailand to increase accessibility to mental health services for students and other groups.

The startup previously received seed funding from Singapore-based early-stage venture capital firm Expara, and is looking to raise additional institutional funding.

Eix is determined to scale the service to other markets in the region. The next stop? Singapore.

Both Thailand and Singapore struggle with an acute problem—suicide. A World Health Organization study published in September ranked Thailand as the leading country in ASEAN in the annual suicide rate, at 14.4 self-inflicted deaths for every 100,000 people in the country. This was followed by Singapore.

In a pitching competition, Eix told the audience about a young professional named June, who for some time was having the time of her life in the corporate world, but eventually was stressed out to the point of near-suicide.

“She decided to leave the job that she worked for, but June is not alone. We’ve been helping her, and right now she’s started going out to interviews and get back to her new life and start a new job. And there’s not only June around the world. I was also June,” Eix said.


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