Chinese mental health apps gain traction as COVID cases surge

Mental health apps are quickly gaining traction as COVID cases continue to spread rapidly throughout China. In fact, China’s mental health field has seen an influx of entrepreneurs and investors targeting online psychiatric consultations, meditation apps, online psychological assessments, and more.

Since its foundation in 2020, FLOW Meditation, a Shanghai-based app, has obtained two rounds of million-dollar financing from investors such as Evolve Ventures and Lightspeed China Partners.

The app offers courses on meditation, focusing on topics such as emotional management, anxiety relief, sleep improvement, yoga, and more. So far, the app boasts a total of over 100,000 users with approximately 50,000 monthly active users.

Other apps that have become popular recently include ‘Electronic Beat’ which is a service dedicated to marriage counselling and child therapy, and ‘Muyu’, an app that helps users escape negative emotions by tuning into traditional Chinese instruments. Even digital mini-games are on the rise such as “Sheep-a-sheep” which took the nation by storm in September.

In 2021 alone, global investment in digital health solutions exceeded $35.8 billion. According to statistics from Fierce Healthcare, this is expected to grow by $201.41 billion in the next three years, and China is no exception. 

In China, investor confidence is currently strong, with investments in the mental health industry amounting to a whopping 1.5 billion RMB ($215 million) as of 2021. Even tech giants have joined in on the movement, such as ByteDance who led C-round financing of 200 million RMB ($28.6 million) for Haoxinwing, a digital mental health service platform.

For the past three years, COVID has exacerbated the nation’s mental health issues, thus increasing demand for and accelerating the digitalisation of the mental health service industry in China. According to a survey conducted by the Chinese Journal of Psychiatry, approximately 53.5% of the 15,000 Chinese people surveyed showed a positive detection rate of depressive symptoms.

Given the lingering stigma associated with mental disorders, therefore, online platforms and apps provide a safe space and protect individuals’ confidentiality, increasing the likelihood of seeking consultation or finding ways to alleviate anxiety, loneliness, or insomnia to bolster mental health. 

Additionally, the explosive growth of the VR and AI market in China has impacted the mental health service industry. In 2020, the VR market reached a market value of 90 billion RMB ($13.4 billion), with more than 130 AI companies focused on healthcare applications. Research undergone thus far has demonstrated that VR therapy is a promising treatment for phobias, anxiety, and PTSD.

All in all, the rise in downloads and usage of counselling and meditation apps indicates the potential growth in China’s mindfulness economy. Moreover, the rapid growth of VR/AI technology makes China fertile ground for innovative – and potentially less stigmatised – means of mental health care and education in the nation.


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