AXA HK, CUHK, and Oxford VR, launch Asia’s first VR psychological programme

AXA Hong Kong, the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), and Oxford VR, have jointly launched a first-of-its-kind advanced psychological therapy programme using virtual reality (VR) technology to support better mental health outcomes in Asia, including the Greater Bay Area.

This collaboration, entitled “Yes I Can”, aims to offer a new mental health solution for social avoidance. The social avoidance treatment programme has been designed to help people feel safer and more confident in social situations by exposing users to virtual reality scenarios which allow them to learn they can confront and engage in these feared situations.

In the treatment, 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.

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 English and Cantonese. In addition, it 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.

“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, CEO of Oxford VR.

According to a survey by YouGov in June 2019, 71% of respondents had experienced at least one symptom of social avoidance due to anxiety and depression, such as avoiding a social gathering, finding difficulties in giving a presentation/talk at work or social interaction with unfamiliar people because of anxiety or stress.

Meanwhile, 64% of youngsters aged 18-24, in particular, have had an inability to interact with strangers/unfamiliar people.

“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, CEO 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 partnership under AXA Hong Kong, CUHK and Oxford VR also includes a clinical research study which involves the recruitment of more than 250 members of the public as participants.

“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,” said professor Fanny Cheung, pro-vice-chancellor/vice-president of CUHK.

“I am so delighted that AXA Hong Kong and Oxford VR share the same vision with us. I am confident 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.”

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