Chinese Mental Health Apps Attract Investment as COVID-19 Spreads

For almost three years now, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many people’s preexisting mental health problems, and demand for mental health solutions caused by surging isolation and illness has greatly increased in China. As the virus is now spreading widely throughout China’s large population for the first time, mental health apps of various types have emerged, attracting considerable investment.

According to the Chinese Journal of Psychiatry, during the pandemic, a survey of the mental health status of nearly 15,000 average people in China showed that the positive detection rate of depressive symptoms was 53.5%, among which mild depression accounted for 29.3%, moderate depression accounted for 14.0% and severe depression accounted for 10.1%. The positive rate of anxiety symptoms was 44.6%, among which mild anxiety accounted for 27.8%, moderate anxiety accounted for 10.2% and severe anxiety accounted for 6.6%. In recent years, China’s mental health field has seen an influx of entrepreneurs targeting online psychiatric consultations, meditation apps, online psychological assessments, and so on.

Many studies have shown that meditation can reduce the stress hormone cortisol, thus relieving anxiety and depression. Shanghai-based startup FLOW Meditation was founded in 2020, and its app was launched in August 2021. Since its establishment, FLOW Meditation has obtained two rounds of million-dollar financing, with investors such as Evolve Ventures and Lightspeed China Partners. The online section of FLOW Meditation offers courses on meditation, focusing on topics such as emotional management, anxiety relief, sleep improvement, voice healing, and yoga. The offline community encourages users to share spontaneously in the form of meditation logs and group discussions. The registered users of FLOW Meditation’s app now total over 100,000, and monthly active users are about 50,000.

Starting from marriage issues, an app called Yuanxinpu is committed to building a service platform of online mental health service, marriage and children tutoring, encouraging everyone to look at emotions, marriage and family life from a new perspective. The app named “Electronic Bead” focuses on emotional management, with simple page design. There is only a string of beads on the screen which can be rotated with a light touch, and the screen will vibrate accordingly. Moreover, there is a counting system for users.

Apps to escape negative emotions are also popular in China. In October, an app called Muyu ranked second on the free list of the App Store in China, and stayed in the top 10 for seven consecutive days. Chinese wooden blocks from which the app takes its name were originally a kind of instrument, mostly used for Buddhist and Taoist lessons and Dharma meetings. However, the app requires users to simulate the knocking process by clicking on the screen. After paying or watching advertisements, users can put their mobile phones aside and let the electronic wooden block tap automatically.

Underpinning the emergence of these types of apps is the need for people to decompress during their leisure time. A digital mini-game called “Sheep a Sheep,” which became popular in September in China, is one recent example. Videos with the hashtag “decompression” on Douyin have been played over 124.9 billion times. Videos related to decompression toys have found corresponding audience groups. Decompression “halls” also began to appear, including sports such as archery and bowling, as well as throwing bowls, smashing bottles and shouting.

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According to statistics from Fierce Healthcare in 2021, the global mental health products and services market is expected to grow by $201.41 billion in the next three years, representing a compound annual growth rate of 9.06%. In China, the investor confidence in this field is strong. According to data from VBDATA, a research institution covering the Chinese medical and health industry, 24 investments have been made since 2021 in the field of mental health with an accumulated amount exceeding 1.5 billion yuan ($215 million). For example, in September 2021, ByteDance led C-round financing totaling 200 million yuan for Haoxinqing, a digital service platform for mental health, setting a new record at that time for single financing amount in China’s mental health field.