Adrian Wong, a communications and engagement specialist, noticed signs of depression after using a “wellness companion” app for half a year to keep track of his mood and behaviour.
The app, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) , led Wong to seek help from a psychiatrist, and he was diagnosed with clinical depression.
“Clara [the app] is like my best friend,” said Wong, who enjoys using the chatbot function during his commute on the bus. “When you have a negative vibe, you do not want to affect other people. It is a very good channel for you to really express that negativity, and most importantly, there is learning behind it, there are always takeaways.”
The mobile app developed by Hong Kong based start-up Neurum Health is part of the employee benefits Wong enjoys at his company. It is available only to corporate subscribers – its clients are mainly professional service companies such as AXA and Swire.
Neurum Health’s two founders, Megan Lam and Caleb Chiu, who come from neuroscience and software development backgrounds, developed Clara in 2018.
In Hong Kong, 87 per cent of employees have reported work-related stress during the pandemic, according to an online survey of about 800 people conducted by the Mental Health Association of Hong Kong.
Lam describes the app as a “one size fits one” solution. “The problem lies in that enterprises are spending on services that are one size fits all. Everyone gets the same thing and this mismatch is ineffective,” she said. “We are able to really adapt and grow with users – machine learning is how we do it.”
The app enables users to input their daily mood, and trace their behaviour including how many paces they’ve walked and their sleep. It can also monitor environmental factors such as time of day and the weather in order to anticipate how the user is feeling.
Clara then learns the user’s lifestyle patterns to provide recommendations and personalised programmes from its content library of over 700 articles and exercises.
Meanwhile, employers will be able to see an overall health index of their workplace for them to better formulate their wellness strategies. The company cannot look into an individual’s data, which protects employees’ privacy.
The app, which now has 100,000 users and is also available in mainland China and southeast Asian countries, costs about HK$40 (USD$5) per person per month.
It can link to a company’s existing employee assistance programme via hotlines that provide instant counselling services.
“Clara can integrate plug-and-play into existing company resources that are very underutilised right now. They are very helpful, it’s just that people do not know when to use them,” Lam said.
The company is planning to expand later this year to a model in which everyone, not just a company’s employees, can have Clara at their fingertips.
PALO IT, an IT company which has provided the app to its employees since December, said staff well-being is even more important during the Covid-19 pandemic
, especially with several team members separated from their loved ones because of travel restrictions.
“By introducing the app to our employees, we’ve offered a safe place or tool to speak out, created awareness and can follow up when we observe red flags,” said Amin Tse, human resources and talent acquisition manager at PALO IT.
The company, which has 500 employees globally, has rolled out Clara to its 250 staff in Asia. An 80 per cent activation rate of the mobile app was seen.
Instead of cutting employees’ benefits amid the pandemic, the company has been looking at how they can expand them to provide better support.
“In general, employees tend to stay longer in an organisation that cares about them and their well-being,” Tse said. “It was great to see that even some of our colleagues in Mexico and Colombia have been using Clara after we shared the details globally.”
Wong, who has been working in his company for 16 months, agrees that mental health support could provide an incentive for people to stay in the company.
After the app led him to a diagnosis for his condition, it has helped him through his recovery. A mood tracker on the app uses colours to gauge the user’s progress.
“When your scoreboard has always been on the red side, you know that you are on edge. For me, it was like red all over the place,” he said. “You can see it becoming more orangey and then yellow, and then eventually it’s green. It’s an improvement you can see, it’s a tangible outcome which is really rewarding.”