The importance of mental health in the workplace cannot be overstated. Productivity is boosted when work is being done in the right mental state. Yet, mental health has been neglected by companies for a long time.

Theodoric Chew, Co-Founder & CEO, Intellect

This week, SME & ENTREPRENEURSHIP MAGAZINE speaks to Theodoric Chew, co-founder and CEO of Intellect, a mental health startup focusing on offering easy access to mental care and support.

What inspired you to set up Intellect?

We started Intellect in 2019, just before the COVID-19 outbreak, as we saw big gaps in Asia’s mental health space.

We identified three key challenges. The first is cost. It’s really expensive to get access to care and look for therapists or psychologists.

The second and probably the biggest issue is stigma. Asians typically see mental health as an extreme case scenario, relating therapy to things like schizophrenia and even suicidal thoughts.

And third, we noticed a shortage in the supply of mental health practitioners across the region. Singapore has one of the lowest supplies in comparison to many other developed cities in the world.

Our belief is that mental well-being should be addressed in early stages rather than waiting until clinical care is needed. Having personally gone through therapy in my teenage years, I realised the importance of mental health well-being and having accessibility to the required care.

What were the greatest challenges you have faced so far in setting up the business?

One of the biggest challenges in mental healthcare space is to change people’s mindset. People are hesitant to seek help and acknowledge problems like trauma, depression, and panic attacks, as they fear being judged by peers who cannot relate to such struggles.

Similarly, in the professional arena, employees refrain from acknowledging mental health issues out of fear of a negative performance review.

Secondly, Asian societies have a long way to go in normalising mental health conversations. Convincing Asian companies to see value in the mental well-being of their employees, instilling it as a part of their benefits package and corporate programmes can be a tedious process.

In 2019, when we were pitching our platform to clients and prospects, it was seen as a nice-to-have solution, but what we see is that a lot more companies now view this as a must-have.

Furthermore, many acknowledge that it can improve workplace productivity and employee satisfaction.

How has the mental health landscape changed in response to COVID-19?

On one hand, COVID-19 has increased burnout and chronic stress across all geographies due to the blurring lines of work-life balance.

On the other hand, it has also triggered rising mental health awareness and public attention, especially in Asia.

Individuals are acknowledging and prioritizing their psychological well-being and corporates are understanding the direct impact of employee well-being on organizational growth.

Many startups today have mental health leave already embedded in their employee benefits package and programmes, whereas SMEs, MNCs and the Fortune 500 are taking proactive steps to take care of their employees by inviting professional experts on-campus or by having routine programmes in place.

The surging demand is also nudging governments worldwide to take a new and proactive approach to improve mental health access for their citizens and residents.

What trends do you see developing in the mental health space?

Asia is surely catching up with the western world in terms of mental health awareness and this is set to rise in the coming time.

Companies in Asia are increasingly becoming more sensitive and aware of the importance of their employees’ mental well-being.

These organisations have come to realise that their employees’ workplace satisfaction and productivity are connected to their mental health and well-being.

We see more organisations incorporating mental health as part of their corporate wellness budget and are actively looking at both direct and indirect methods to cater to their employees’ needs.


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