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MindFi founder Bjorn Lee on rising demand for mental wellness services due to COVID-19

A growing number of companies in Asia are seeking out mental wellness services for employees.

Singaporean serial entrepreneur Bjorn Lee once worked long hours—to the point where he developed frequent chest pains. Seeking remedies, he turned to meditation and found that his physical and mental conditions improved. The realization led him to establish MindFi, a company that facilitates services that foster psychological well-being, in 2017.

Today, MindFi serves both business and individual clients. Its app offers several regimens to guide users through calming mental exercises, some for beginners, some for more advanced users. MindFi also works with companies to improve workplace mental wellness.

MindFi founder Bjorn Lee. Photo courtesy of MindFi.

KrASIA caught up with Bjorn Lee at a time when many of us need to be aware of the pressures we must deal with, and how they impact our health.

KrASIA (Kr): Are you seeing a surge in demand for MindFi as COVID-19 has left a noticeable imprint on the mental well-being of people across the world?

Bjorn Lee (BL): We started seeing higher demand starting in February—at least five times higher in terms of increased customers on the B2B side, and three times in terms of usage on the B2C side.

More companies are paying attention to the mental well-being of their employees because such employees are facing more stress as they work from home. These employees may not be used to not seeing their colleagues and their working routines have been affected. There are a lot of adjustments and initial stresses among the workforce here in Asia.

We have seen a lot of demand from companies to run webinars for their employees. The focus is to share simple, science-based techniques that they can practice at home to cope with stress better. We have mindfulness trainers who can share their own experiences of how they deal with stress. In one hour, employees can learn two or three quick techniques they can use to practice mindfulness so that they can work from home better.

Kr: Were you surprised to see an increased number of companies looking to provide mental health support for their employees? 

BL: Companies in Asia typically do not have a mental health budget. We previously had difficulties in reaching out to companies. We know there’s definitely a mental health need, but we do not know whether many companies in Asia are willing to loosen their purse strings. We know that mental health is important because of this COVID-19 situation, as people are scared and stressed out. Still, we were surprised to see a higher number of companies creating such budgets to invest in their own employees’ welfare.

Kr: What differentiates MindFi from other mindfulness apps such as Calm and Headspace? 

BL: We started out as a consumer-focused app, but now are more focused on working with companies. We believe that the biggest source of stress in the world comes from the office. My chest pain came from work stress. I think it’s the same for many people as well. We want to bring our solutions into the office, because we are in a war against work stress. Every Asian country is going fast. There are a lot of young people hungry for success.

When we enter the workplace, we don’t know how to manage our mind, the stress. We want to tell companies in Asia that it’s different now. Our generation is going to work in a different way compared to the previous generation. We need mental wellness in the workplace. We need to tell leaders that they cannot subject their employees to stress day after day, month after month, year after year. Employees want to be productive so their minds must be positive.

MindFi’s app provides mindfulness tracks to guide users. Courtesy of MindFi.

The special thing about our app is that people can learn to meditate with their eyes open, as they go through their daily routines. For example, we have tracks teaching people how to walk mindfully, eat mindfully, how they can manage their days in a more mindful manner, staying undistracted. We teach them these very interesting practices that they can use during the day with their eyes open.

Kr: What do you think is the role of mental health startups such as yours, beyond serving this higher demand during the COVID-19 pandemic?

BL: The mind has been neglected. The world has always thought about health only in terms of the body. The role of a mental health startup like MindFi is to make people understand that there’s a duality to our health—the mind and the body must be in balance. Our job is to make people understand that you need your mind to be fit and healthy as well.

For mental well-being, you need to meditate, learn how to take a break. When you’re feeling stressed out and thinking about something again and again, how can you break that chain?

Kr: What advice do you have on how to be mindful during this difficult time? 

BL: Take a five-minute break every hour. Observe three deep breaths—inhale and exhale. Focus on extending your exhalation as much as possible because it actives your natural body relaxation system.

The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.