Interview with: Joan Low, Founder and CEO of ThoughtFull

Interview with: Joan Low, Founder and CEO of ThoughtFull

Joan Low was a former banker who managed a portfolio of over USD1.3 billion in assets. Now, she is the Founder and CEO of ThoughtFull, a digital mental health startup that aims to make mental wellness solutions affordable and accessible.

We interviewed her to find out more on how ThoughtFull came about, the challenges she faced, the recently launched feature called ThoughtFullChat and more.

Share with our readers what ThoughtFull does and what people can get out of ThoughtFull.

ThoughtFull is a purpose-led digital mental health startup providing affordable and accessible mental wellness solutions. ThoughtFull currently comprises ThoughtFullChat, our subscription-based mobile application chat platform that connects users to certified mental health professionals for daily bite-sized coaching; and ThoughtFull Education, our consulting arm providing uniquely designed mental wellness programmes for corporate and educational organisations.

At ThoughtFull, we want to make mental health as aspirational as physical health. As an end-to-end provider of mental health care services, we make it affordable and accessible for you to proactively engage with your mental health anytime, anywhere. Be it daily bite-sized coaching on-the-go or curated mental wellness programmes for every organisation, we empower you to be your best by helping you take care of your mental health.

How did the idea of ThoughtFull come about?

Having been a mental health caregiver for the past 20 years, I recognised the vast gaps in the traditional mental healthcare system in Southeast Asia vis-à-vis regions such as North America, Europe, and North Asia, where I spent many years living, studying, and working. Proactive engagement with one’s physical and mental health is common in some countries, but preventive mental healthcare is not yet universal practice in Asia. We founded ThoughtFull with a vision to make mental health as aspirational as physical health and to enrich Asia’s mental wellness landscape with on-the-go, affordable solutions that can be easily integrated into every lifestyle. Powered by evidence-based research, ThoughtFull empowers individuals to proactively engage with their mental health and enables employers to provide accessible preventive mental healthcare to their employees, all through driving digital innovation within the preventive mental healthcare space without losing the human touch.

What were the challenges that you faced when setting up ThoughtFull and how did you overcome them?

As one of the pioneers in digital mental health in Asia, the path forward has not always been clear. ThoughtFull started two years ago when mental health was not as in focus as it is today in a pandemic era. Hence, one of the biggest challenges then was to raise awareness about the importance of not just mental health, but specifically, upstream preventive mental healthcare. This is why ThoughtFull’s first line of business, ThoughtFull Education, did extensive groundwork in order to set up the foundations needed to drive the normalization of proactive mental health engagement. This groundwork has proven to be essential for the quick and effective roll-out as well as adoption of ThoughtFullChat where the entire user journey is at the heart of our service offering.

There are many free resources and apps out there in the market for mental wellness in general. Where does ThoughtFull stand?

At ThoughtFull, we believe that engaging with one’s mental health should be as easy and approachable as having a ThoughtFullChat with someone you trust. Through digital innovation, we are making preventive mental healthcare easily accessible at scale while still retaining the warmth of human connection.

Mental health is a very personal subject, and no two individuals have the same needs when it comes to mental healthcare. This is why ThoughtFull not only removes the guesswork from finding a best-fit professional for you, we also adopt a personalised, coach-led approach blending both therapeutic and coaching frameworks, so that we can meet our users at various stages of their journey. We focus on upstream prevention, equipping individuals with the knowledge and tools to maintain optimal health and performance from the start. This is where consistency is key, just as how 20 minutes of exercise a day is better than two hours of intensive exercise once a month. Integrating mental health care into your lifestyle can be as simple as daily bite-sized coaching anytime, anywhere!

Mental wellness has been a challenging topic in Asia due to social stigma. Do you think that it will change in the near future or in the next five years?

Besides the social stigma associated with mental wellness, we observe that affordability and accessibility of mental healthcare are key factors to the robustness and success of a mental healthcare system. Unaffordable mental health support prevents consistent mental health engagement, and the lack of accessibility to mental health resources limits opportunities for taking preventive and proactive care of one’s mental health.

In Asia, we are at the cusp of this seismic change in the mental healthcare space as we transition towards a value-based healthcare system. Now, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing that the conversations surrounding mental health are shifting away from just awareness to action. Navigating and adapting to the new normal has taken a huge toll on our mental health, and people are beginning to recognise the importance of proactively keeping our mental health in check. Our conversations with corporates have moved from educational mental health webinars to the tools and resources for employees to navigate and thrive amidst new challenges.

We view this as a positive step in the right direction for the mental wellness landscape in Asia, and we are committed to driving this change by ensuring the continued affordability and accessibility of mental health solutions with ThoughtFull.  

You recently launched ThoughtFullChat. Can you share with us a bit more about this new feature on ThoughtFull?

ThoughtFullChat is our subscription-based mobile chat platform, where we connect users with certified mental health professionals for daily bite-sized coaching anytime, anywhere. Built around asynchronous texting, ThoughtFullChat provides users with unlimited access to a private, secure one-on-one chat room, where they can text their thoughts and feelings to their ThoughtFull Professional at any time – whether it is in the early morning before a big presentation, or late at night when they feel most alone. Our goal is always focused on making it easy for the individual to build resilience on the go. Their assigned ThoughtFull Professional also checks in daily from Monday to Friday, enabling users to consistently engage with their own mental health at their own pace. Let’s #HaveAThoughtFullChat!

What’s next for ThoughtFull?

As the demand for mental health services and resources continue to grow, we will be taking bite-sized mental health care up a notch with the rollout of our Learn feature on ThoughtFullChat, providing users a space to learn about approaching their mental health as they take their first steps towards proactive engagement. Up to this point, these resources have only been made available to users via our ThoughtFull Professionals, and we want to empower more people in their journey of continuous growth. The Learn feature will enable self-driven learning and self-discovery that our users can undergo at their own pace.

We are also working hard to grow fast enough to meet the growing demand, especially amidst the pandemic. ThoughtFull is on a very healthy growth trajectory; our ThoughtFull Professionals network currently spans six cities and represents up to five different languages. We strongly believe that this network will continue to expand and grow overtime as we continue to invest in digitising the mental health care industry and bringing our services to corporates and consumers alike.

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