Due to Covid-19, traffic on the online-to-offline advice platform Safe Space increased by 64 percent.
The Singapore startup enables people to seek remote advice via video calls and face-to-face meetings. As psychiatrists close or restrict their practices, people have turned to online counseling in droves.
"People were forced to use digital mental health tools," said Antoinette Renee Patterson, co-founder of Safe Space.
"There have been increasing cases of austerity and unemployment anxiety, and those in the 'sandwich generation' have had to look after their older parents and children from home."
It's strange to think that you're passing on your darkest secrets to someone you've never really met. However, it seems that online counseling platforms are not just a passing phenomenon and that they will stay here.
But how effective are they as a mental health tool?
Discover a gap in mental health care
Antoinette Renee Patterson / Image Credit: Safe Space via Facebook
For Antoinette, the inspiration for her startup was a desire to make mental health services more accessible, affordable, and convenient.
Originally, Antoinette was involved in digital advertising for several ad tech startups for over a decade, which she believes is a very stressful industry.
"Long hours were encouraged and it became normal practice," she says.
“Your health will inevitably deteriorate. You have less time to enjoy and become more irritable. "
The state of the industry was an open secret to Antoinette and her colleagues, but things reached a tipping point when her friend had a panic attack in the office.
To help her colleague, Antoinette searched for emergency mental health services online but found that the expert list generated was long and crooked.
We had to go through the whole list one by one. How should we choose a therapist or find out who is nearby and available for a counseling session?
That's when I realized there was a (mental health) gap.
– Antoinette Renee Patterson, co-founder of Safe Space
It wasn't long before Antoinette started.
Safe Space started around 2017. The app was released in 2019 and marks its official market launch.
Make advice affordable, accessible, and convenient
The Safe Space platform provides “freelance” counseling services and is available in person and by video call.
“Budget constraints and lack of free time are one of the main factors (affecting the frequency with which our clients consult),” explains Antoinette, adding that not everyone has the time or resources to travel to therapy.
This is where digihealth comes in.
With online counseling services, counselors can remotely provide mental health services to people who live in rural areas, work under high pressure, or self-isolate during a pandemic.
The lower overhead costs of digital advice also keep costs down. Therapists do not have to pay rental and administration fees, which in turn lowers consultation fees.
To illustrate, a one-on-one counseling at the Singapore Counseling Center can cost up to S $ 180.
In contrast, a session at Safe Space costs around S $ 80 for video calls and S $ 120 for face-to-face meetings.
The great but personal online advice is vital
Photo credit: Facebook / Safe Space
However, the options for online advice are limited.
Platforms like Better Help take advantage of text counseling, which Antoinette sees as "a good gateway for those first thinking about digital counseling".
However, counselors need to read your physical cues, she claims.
"Actions like subconsciously picking your elbow signal emotions like fear."
For this reason, Safe Space only offers video calls and personal advice. Despite the video calling option, personal services remain necessary as even a video call is limited by the confines of a screen.
For some patients, their home environment is not suitable for online counseling sessions.
To solve this problem, Safe Space uses its own offices or allows selected consultants to open their offices for personal consultations.
Regardless, online services remain popular with customers. Antoinette estimates that 70 percent of Safe Space customers keep their video calls on despite the option of personal advice.
Maximizing consultation hours
All Safe Space advisors are licensed practitioners with the Singapore Association for Counseling or the Australian Counseling Association.
Several of the consultants listed on the Safe Space website / Image Credit: Safe Space
Despite their qualifications, the consultants face the same problem in their professional encounter – the lack of clients.
"It's the number one pain point," confirms Antoinette. “Most of them are older and have no experience with advertising or social media. But over time they get smarter. "
"Additional chores like getting referrals or filing administrative documents take time to care for patients. So we signed a contract with them to help them fill their unused hours."
In addition, Safe Space offers its therapists training in keynote lectures to support them in conducting webinars.
“It helps them remove the stigma and explains the benefits of therapy. Our clients learn a lot from these sessions. "
However, therapists still need to be adequately compensated – even if costs are kept low, says Antoinette.
"These people take on everyone's trauma eight to 12 hours a day to make them feel better."
Meeting the psychological needs of S’pore
Safe Space has served 1,275 customers to date. The platform is growing gradually as more online mental health services are used during the pandemic.
The ultimate goal is to build an end-to-end mental health ecosystem where all services are interconnected.
“Imagine someone with an eating disorder. They need advice, a nutritionist and a physiotherapist or fitness trainer to get their health going again, ”explains Antoinette.
Safe Space Team / Photo credit: Facebook / Safe Space
Safe Space also plans to expand its offering of mental health services. This includes bringing more psychiatric professionals on board, including psychiatrists, psychologists and psychotherapists.
In this way, Safe Space can ultimately dispense drugs and treat mental illnesses that require long-term intervention.
Singapore has come a long way in the past five years, says Antoinette. There is greater awareness and openness to mental health issues, but the country is only on the "starting line".
"Our goal is to be the startup that covers everything – as long as it is a mental health problem."
Selected image source: Wanted / safe space