Matt Oon, The Founder Of Acceset, Is Changing How We Treat Youth Mental Health
In the What Matters To Me series, a Generation T honouree describes what they do, why they do it, and why it matters.
“If I had my way with things, I’d be a footballer,” says Matt Oon. But when the founder and CEO of mental health startup Acceset realised that his skills would never allow him to play for Manchester United, he gave up on that dream.
After completing his mandatory two-year service in the Singapore army, Oon felt a strong urge to “find meaning” in his life and be involved in a business for social good. So he jumped at the opportunity to volunteer with peer support service Audible Hearts in 2013, when a friend posted about it on Facebook.
“It resonated with me largely because I grew up with a mum who has schizophrenia and I always found it challenging to relate to others and vice versa,” Oon shares. “It was a service I would have used if I had known about it.”
He subsequently started Acceset in 2015, which seeks to disrupt the mental health industry with technology. His online platform supports youth by providing them with information and help for their mental health issues through anonymous text-based therapy.
Last year, its efforts were recognised with a grant from the London-based charitable foundation Wellcome Trust to find new treatments and approaches to tackle youth anxiety and depression. Oon shares more on his professional challenges and future plans.
I decided to work in mental health after noticing how quickly some people in the sector dismissed new ideas. I was genuinely curious to know what motivated doubters to favour the status quo, when it seemed obvious to me that the traditional methods of counselling were not accessible or meeting the psychological needs of a younger generation who grew up with digital tools and devices.
Acceset's primary model is text-based therapy. But we understand that it can be challenging to stare at a blank screen, revisit past experiences and try to convert them into words. What we've done is to break down that process by asking users what motivates them to write to us. The selections are there to cater to different motivations. Some may be writing to us because they feel trapped or isolated, others may be feeling uninspired, doubtful or misunderstood. Based on their selection, we will provide prompts to go along. If a user selects “I wish to feel that the relationships I have with other people are not easily broken”, for example, we will prompt them with “We are glad you came to us. Would you like to share about what is currently happening?”
Apart from getting users to identify their motivations for writing a digital letter, we also provide myriad positive and negative emotions that they could select to indicate what they most identify with. The process of labelling emotions and connecting with the motivations of the user helps to give comfort and eases the work of getting started with the writing.
The media plays a big role in our understanding of mental health and how to treat it. Its portrayal of mental health issues and how those needing help can seek therapy may give people the inaccurate impression that therapy is a quick fix. Its frequent reporting of certain issues, such as sexual abuse, may also cause some to believe it is a highly prevalent issue, while narrowing their understanding of a broad spectrum of traumatic experiences, including physical and emotional neglect.
My biggest mental challenge as an entrepreneur is managing my own self-doubt and anxiety. They stem from the pressure I put on myself to be abreast of the latest science and research around mental health as well as my desire to develop innovative technology that our customers expect with a shoestring budget.
Next for Acceset is to complete our research work. We’re working with The N.1 Institute for Health, run by fellow Gen.T honouree Dean Ho, to validate our platform and help us to develop a scalable, user-ready digital para-counselling platform with actionable algorithms, to pinpoint additional risk factors for user triaging. We’re also looking to develop programmes that can help schools better combat issues such as cyberbullying and internet safety.
See more honourees from the Healthcare & Sciences category of the Gen.T List.