CUHK, AXA Hong Kong and Oxford VR join forces to revolutionise mental health care by launching Asia-first VR therapy solution Over 70% of the respondents have experienced at least one symptom of social avoidance due to anxiety and depression
The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), AXA Hong Kong and Oxford VR (OVR) have today jointly launched a first-of-its-kind advanced psychological therapy using virtual reality (VR) technology to support better mental health outcomes in Asia including the Greater Bay Area. This unique collaboration ‘Yes I Can’, aims to offer a ground-breaking new mental health solution for social avoidance. Social withdrawal is a common symptom of anxiety and depression which can significantly affect functioning at home and at work.
A new survey conducted by YouGov in June 2019 shows that 71% of the respondents have experienced at least one symptom of social avoidance due to anxiety and depression, such as avoiding social gathering, finding difficulties in giving a presentation/talk at work or social interaction with unfamiliar people due to anxiety or stress. 64% of youngsters aged 18-24, in particular, have found inability to interact with strangers/unfamiliar people. And one in every 8 (13%) Hong Kong people feels unable to discuss the mental wellbeing matter with anyone, and among them, 36% of them think that discussing mental wellbeing could change how others perceive them, whereas 27% say they can’t afford the time or money to seek professional mental health services.
“CUHK is committed to translating academic research into practical solutions, addressing societal needs and global challenges. Mental health is definitely one of our key areas of concern. Our faculty members from various disciplines have been working on multiple innovative research projects and community service programmes aiming at improving mental well-being of our students and the community at large. I am so delighted that AXA Hong Kong and Oxford VR share the same vision with us. I am confident that this strong tripartite collaboration will pave the way for the delivery of an innovative, widely accessible, cost-effective and evidence-based mental health solution to Hong Kong and the wider world community,” said Professor Fanny Cheung, Pro-Vice-Chancellor / Vice-President of CUHK.
“As a lifelong health partner, AXA strives to offer innovative solutions to promote people’s wellbeing in Asia. While there is a growing awareness of the importance of mental health, nearly two-third of respondents (68%) admitted that there is still a stigma associated with having a mental health condition preventing people talking about it and getting professional help,” said Gordon Watson, Chief Executive Officer of AXA Asia. “‘Yes I Can’ is about changing the status quo by offering high-quality, innovative and clinically-validated mental health treatment to members of the public in need, and to our corporate customers as part of their employee benefits services. Through this initiative, we aim to make quality mental health care more accessible in Asia, with Hong Kong as a pioneer in breaking new ground.”
The social avoidance treatment programme has been designed to help people feel safer and more confident in social situations. In the treatment programme, a virtual coach gradually and systematically guides the user through a series of tasks in environments that reflect everyday scenarios including a Café, Bus, Street, Doctor’s Waiting Room and Convenience Store. The scenarios enable the user to experience the same emotional and physical responses that triggers their anxiety and therefore their desire to avoid situations, as they would in a real-life situation. As a result of being exposed over time in virtual reality, users learn that they can confront and engage in these feared situations safely and overcome their social withdrawal.
“Based on its proven success in the UK, VR therapy can be used to treat most common psychological conditions, including common phobias, anxiety and depression and even more difficult conditions such as psychosis and schizophrenia,” said Barnaby Perks, Chief Executive Officer of Oxford VR. “This is a solution whose time has come, and we are very excited to collaborate with CUHK and AXA Hong Kong to launch this social avoidance treatment programme. Technology holds the key to making high-quality mental health care more patient-centred and accessible. This strategic partnership with CUHK and AXA Hong Kong exemplifies our global leadership role in creating ground-breaking, clinically-validated, VR-enabled mental health solutions which have the capacity to bring unprecedented change to healthcare outcomes in the region.”
In Hong Kong and China, there is a shortage of a trained workforce to cater to the huge unmet need. One million people in Hong Kong and 173 million people in China suffer from common mental health conditions. It takes around three years to see a psychiatrist for six minutes in Hong Kong, with 4.39 psychiatrists per 100,000 people, while in China, the ratio is 2.2 psychiatrists per 100,000 people. The World Health Organization recommends a ratio of 10:100,000. The programme under ‘Yes I Can’ does not require a highly trained professional to operate the service as the delivery of consistently high-quality treatment is already built into the programme.
The ‘Yes I Can’ programme provides each participant with six to eight 30-minute VR sessions over a period of three to six weeks. It is intended for use by adults who are aged 18 or above, and the localised version will be offered in both English and Cantonese. The partnership under CUHK, AXA Hong Kong and Oxford VR also includes a clinical research study which involves the recruitment of more than 250 members of the public as participants. For more details about the programme, please visit: www.axa.com.hk/oxford-vr
Founded in 1963, CUHK is a leading comprehensive research university with a global reputation. Located in the heart of Asia, CUHK has a vision and a mission to combine tradition with modernity, and to bring together China and the West. Under the University’s unique collegiate system, the programmes and activities offered by its nine colleges complement the formal curricula by delivering whole-person education and pastoral care. The University has eight faculties: Arts, Business Administration, Education, Engineering, Law, Medicine, Science and Social Science. Together with the Graduate School, the University offers over 300 undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. All faculties are actively engaged in research in a wide range of disciplines, with an array of research institutes and research centres specialising in interdisciplinary research of the highest quality.
CUHK is recognised as the most innovative university in Hong Kong and is ranked 22nd in the Asia-Pacific region by the latest ‘Reuters: Asia Pacific’s Most Innovative Universities’ listing. The University currently has more than 900 granted patents in different jurisdictions worldwide. Some of these patents have been licensed to relevant industries that help bring these innovations to the market to benefit society. In the academic year 2017-18, CUHK received 185 granted patents and filed 327 patent applications for inventions developed in the areas of medical technology, biotechnology, information technology, telecommunications and materials science.
About AXA Hong Kong and Macau
AXA Hong Kong and Macau, a member of the AXA Group, prides itself on serving over 1 million customers in the region. In addition to being the #1 global Property & Casualty commercial lines insurer, it has also been the #1 insurance brand worldwide for 10 consecutive years. In Hong Kong and Macau, AXA is one of the top medical insurance providers and No. 1 in corporate medical insurance.
As an innovative insurer, we leverage on Big Data and AI to transform the customer experience end-to-end, making insurance simpler and more personal. We continue to drive innovation notably in health and protection, supporting customers in prevention, treatment and recovery.
Oxford VR is a global pioneer in developing leading-edge VR-enabled therapy building on almost two decades of ground-breaking clinical research by Daniel Freeman, Professor of Clinical Psychology at Oxford University, Chief Clinical Officer and co-founder of Oxford VR. The potential of OVR’s programmes to treat a wide range of mental health conditions has been demonstrated in a landmark clinical trial, published in The Lancet Psychiatry in August 2018, which showed treatment effectiveness of equal to, if not superior to face-to-face therapy. OVR is committed to developing evidence-based, cost-effective and scalable solutions that build mental-health care capacity in primary and secondary care by taking advantage of cutting-edge VR technologies. In a field of therapy where patient drop-out is high, Oxford VR’s leading-edge treatment provides a superior mental health treatment experience using powerful and compelling VR to deliver automated, protocolised cognitive behavioural therapy. Patients are gradually and systematically exposed to simulations of everyday situations that trigger symptoms. Oxford VR’s immersive treatment scenarios and activities are so compelling and life-like that patients experience the same emotional and physical response that they would in similar real-life situations.
 Including customers of AXA China Region Insurance Company Limited, AXA China Region Insurance Company (Bermuda) Limited (incorporated in Bermuda with limited liability), and AXA General Insurance Hong Kong Limited  AXA Corporate Solutions, AXA Matrix Risk Consultants, AXA Insurance Company, and AXA Art with AXA XL’s insurance and reinsurance operations combined  Interbrand Best Global Brand 2018 (By brand value)