The Startup Bringing Video Counseling to Thailand to Combat Therapy Stigma

December 4, 2019, 10:18 AM UTC
Close up of doctor working on laptop computer.
Close up of doctor working on laptop computer.
Visoot Uthairam—Moment via Getty Images

Thailand had the highest suicide rate among Southeast Asian countries last year, according to the World Health Organization, and access to mental health services in the country can be a challenge.

Long wait times, limited availability in rural areas, and societal stigma around mental illness can contribute to a tricky environment for people struggling with their mental health.

Kanpassorn Suriyasangpetch co-founded Ooca, an online mental health counseling platform, to combat these problems.

“The most difficult step for people to properly get help is to get in touch with psychiatrists or psychologists, because they’re scared, they feel stigma, they don’t want to open up, they’re afraid.” Suriyasangpetch said at the at the Infinity Ventures Summit in Bangkok on Tuesday.

Suriyasangpetch has a full-time job in addition to being Ooca’s chief executive officer. She said that her own struggles with mental health helped her come up with the idea for Ooca.  

“I’m actually a dentist, but I do this out of my pure passion,” Suriyasangpetch said at the tech startup conference. Fortune is a sponsor of this year’s Infinity Ventures Summit.

Ooca matches users to licensed mental health professionals and sets up private, secure video calls for them—in other words, a virtual therapy session, known as telepsychiatry. Ooca, Suriyasangpetch said, is aimed at people who might actively avoid seeking help because of stigma, as well as to those who live in places where they cannot access help.

“People need help and it’s hard for them to actually get in touch with someone that they can trust,” Suriyasangpetch said.

The app lets users register anonymously, find a suitable psychiatrist or psychologist, and arrange a private, secure video call with their chosen provider in a matter of hours, Suriyasangpetch said, “instead of waiting for months” for an in-person appointment at a doctor’s office.  

Ooca launched two years ago and currently has around 60,000 users, including 16,000 university students. Sessions are priced at around $33 for a 30-minute session with a psychologist or around $50 for one with a psychiatrist.

The startup also offers corporate packages—Suriyasangpetch said clients range from startups to international corporations, who buy the packages to offer their employees access to Ooca’s services. It even has a “pay as you go” option that lets users can extend a counseling session instantaneously, like adding extra coins to stretch out a phone-booth call.

Suriyasangpetch said Ooca is planning to go into Singapore next year, and hopes to eventually expand to the rest of Asia.

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