Antoinette Patterson, CEO, Safe Space

A stressful lifestyle often puts us under extreme pressure to the point that we feel mentally exhausted, anxious, burned out, and depressed. When the stress becomes overwhelming and prolonged, the risks for mental health problems increase. In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental illness accounts for 30 per cent of the non-fatal disease burden and 10 per cent of the overall disease burden worldwide. And these mental health problems are on the rise like never before as the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe. According to a recent article by The Straits Times, there was a significant increase across different age groups seeking help for mental issues in the last quarter of 2020. This rising prevalence of mental illness calls for a radical change in the paradigm and practices of mental health care. To bring such an essential transformation in the mental health care delivery space and strengthen mental resilience by ensuring everyone has access to quality, affordable, and discreet mental health care, Safe Space™ was born.

“Safe Space™ is a comprehensive B2B and B2C digital mental healthcare platform that connects individuals and employees to licensed clinical therapists in real-time while assisting them in tracking and managing therapy usage, progress, and related administrative documentation,” opines Antoinette Renee Patterson, Founder and CEO of Safe Space™.

Creating a Mental Health Ecosystem

Safe Space™ owes its origin to a personal experience of Antoinette when she was going through burnout as an individual and an employee. After an extensive Google search and a few embarrassing requests for recommendation, fortunately, Antoinette was able to find a therapist. But she went with the most expensive therapist as that was the only option she had at that time. This made her think — not everyone is able to afford such expensive therapy sessions. So, how can one have access to more convenient and affordable mental health services? Thinking of her team, she asked herself,” What could I offer them to allow quick access to affordable and discreet mental healthcare in Asia, should they go through something similar?” And it is the desire to make mental health services more accessible, affordable, and convenient to all, that propelled Antoinette to establish Safe Space™, a digital mental healthcare service provider startup. Today, Safe Space™ is strengthening mental resilience through prevention education and tele-therapy support.

Safe Space™ platform uses a real-time matching algorithm that evaluates several aspects including an individual’s mental health needs, any physical or emotional issues, level of affordability, schedule availability, geographic location, and preferred therapist type before connecting them to the most suitable therapist within seconds. So, the user can get connected in real-time to professional help online and offline, instantly. All therapists at Safe Space™ are licensed and carefully vetted by a clinical supervisor. All therapy sessions are end-to-end encrypted to its secure server, where only the patient and the therapist can access.

Thriving Against All Odds

When Safe Space™ first began as an idea in 2017, the mental health industry was still in its infancy. No one wanted to talk about mental health as it was so taboo that investors were convinced that it would never work in Asia. For three years, whilst still holding a full-time job, Antoinette and her team had to do their research to convince potential investors that if technology is combined with mental health, it would be possible to solve the pain points. “Whilst this was stressful and at many times, I felt like giving up, I would use aromatherapy to calm me down. Scents like lavender and geranium were a staple in my shower routine to unwind and reset after a long day,” affirms Antoinette.

Fast forward to 2020, the year of COVID-19 led to a huge decline in mental health on a global scale. And this was a turning point for Safe Space™ to make a difference and to prove that there is a huge market for mental health technology. The company saw a 64% increase in users as of April 2020 alone and it had a 200 per cent increase in therapist sign-ups as they were looking to digitally transform and accelerate their physical practice. According to Antoinette, the most significant change during the pandemic was the openness of all government bodies and corporations that began looking to Safe Space™ to provide a mental health solution for their employees.

“What this experience taught me was resilience. How badly did I want my startup idea to succeed? What steps do I need to take to get there? I knew it was a matter of not only traction but being at the right place, at the right time. I’m glad Safe Space™ stuck through and survived all the adversities thrown at us,” adds Antoinette.

Making Counseling Easier for Physicians during the Pandemic

Along with the patients, the Safe Space™ platform also benefits therapists as it provides a convenient avenue for them to conduct their therapy sessions without having to set up a physical office. Safe Space™ corporate analytics dashboard allows employers and their Human Resources (HR) teams to manage and keep track of their employees’ therapy usage accordingly while maintaining the highest level of privacy. Making its services complimentary to frontline healthcare workers, the company is striving to create a healthy and resilient society during these challenging times. While describing the experience with Safe Space™, one of the prominent physicians, Mr. Carla Wangsahardja asserts, “Safe Space™ has been my first online platform for counseling. I was not sure if I would be able to do online counseling as I have been so used to providing face-to-face counseling, yet Safe Space™ team has made it easy for me to make online counseling possible, especially in the midst of this global pandemic.”

Continues Improving the Mental Healthcare Space

Advancing into the future, Safe Space™ continues to achieve positive outcomes through therapy and education. It aspires to become the leading digital mental health ecosystem regionally and a technology hub that connects clients and service providers. To improve overall mental health literacy and to encourage action to look after mental well-being, Safe Space™ has also published an e-Book and a joint whitepaper with Action Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE) on Startup Founders’ Mental Health in Singapore.

The study affirmed the need for mental health contingencies in Singapore startups, especially in light of the ongoing pandemic. Nearly half of the local startups reported that their businesses had been negatively impacted by COVID-19, with 63 per cent losing clients, deals and investors. The owners cited a challenging business environment and company cash flow issues as some of the key stressors impacting both their individual as well as staff’s well-being. Notably 6 in 10 startup founders revealed that they currently do not offer any mental health resources to employees, to which they admitted that mental health remains less of a priority for their businesses, due to the perceived high costs of implementation and their uncertainty as to how employees may reap these mental health benefits.

It is encouraging then to learn that 64 per cent of founders expressed a keen interest in providing more mental health resources to staff as they themselves come to realize the implications of mental health on work quality and productivity.