Startup AMI making mental healthcare accessible in Asia

Asian mental wellness platform pioneer Ami plans to make mental healthcare more accessible for employees in Asia, and Meta is backing them

Mental health in the workplace has emerged as a global priority since the onset of COVID-19. Not surprising given the pandemic has triggered a 25% increase in depression and anxiety worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation.

More and more companies are now recognising that a mentally fit workplace is good for business, and that failing to recognise or support employees’ wellbeing is not only bad for the employee, but for the employer too.

More employers in Asia investing in mental health support

In Asia, a 2021 study by Singapore’s National Institute of Health estimated that the societal cost of six common mental health disorders was US$1.2bn per year, including employee absenteeism and loss of productivity.

Employers now realise that investing in employee wellness not only reduces overall costs, but also improves workplace morale, and helps to attract and retain top talent, something very much top of mind in the current war on talent.

And so, increasingly, businesses are putting their money into mental health support. Some are working to de-stigmatise poor mental health with education and training initiatives, others are offering work perks to help ease stress and/or promote good mental (think flexible working), and yet others are providing employees with health insurance plans that include counselling and/or access to digital apps that deliver an array of benefits.

And this demand has given rise to increasing numbers of mental health apps, from Calm to Talkspace to Headspace, designed for businesses to help employees manage and maintain wellbeing.

New mental health app Ami is making waves in Asia

One such app currently making waves in Asia is Ami, a mental health platform that’s pioneering the way wellbeing is perceived in the region.

Founded in January, the Singapore and Jakarta-based startup aims to make mental healthcare more accessible for employees in Asia, by offering counselling and therapy sessions that take place on messaging platforms like WhatsApp.

Asia’s reliance on messaging apps is what makes this platform especially interesting to businesses in Asia, and therefore to investors.

Ami, which dubs itself the “first human-centric mental wellness platform in Asia” recently secured US$3m seed funding from investors, including from WhatsApp owner Meta, marking the tech giant’s first early-stage startup investment in Asia-Pacific. Meta, or rather Meta’s New Product Experimentation (NPE), an experimental app division, was joined in the funding round by existing investors Goodwater Capital, Strong Ventures, January Capital and Collaborative Fund.

Not bad for an app that’s just four months old and is tackling a subject that has been hidden and stigmatised in equal measure in Asia for far too long.

A 2020 academic review of stigma against mental illness in China, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Korea and Thailand found that these illnesses were viewed as personal weakness and subsequently were less socially acceptable.

Ami is hoping to change this narrative, by reframing mental health as ‘mental wellness’ and to make the narrative around mental health “a lot more proactive for individuals who want to adopt a healthier lifestyle”, Cofounder and CEO Justin Kim told Forbes.

Ami’s belief is that by providing frictionless access to the right support early on, the occasional spell of anxiety or apathy would be less likely to progress into a potentially serious and long-term mental health issue for employees.

Ami’s founders, Justin Kim, listed in Forbes 30 Under 30, and ex-Amazon engineer Beknazar Abdikamalov, are not only entrepreneurs, having worked at some of Asia’s highest growth companies, but they have both had brushes with mental health concerns in the past.

How Ami works for employers

Designed to be as easy as checking the weather and as comfortable as talking to a friend, Ami lets employees access coaches relevant to their needs – upon registering, users fill out a form detailing what stresses them out most often, and are subsequently paired with a specialist coach – and can discuss anything on their minds.

And it seems to be working. Following trial runs, Ami found on average at least 40% of employees used the platform after two months, well above the adoption levels of existing solutions in the mental health space.

And employers in Asia are lining up, with Ami securing a rapidly growing pipeline of tier-one companies looking to onboard the solution.

Its first product is an ‘employer pay’ model that provides employees with one-click mental health coaching by connecting them with relevant professionals. Coaching support is localised as language and culture needs to be contextualised for sessions to be spent on what matters most – counselling.

The goal for Ami with this app is to change the narrative, but ultimately to help employers retain top talent in the region, and while they are only in Singapore and Jakarta right now, plans are to expand throughout the region.


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