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We all know the numbers that foreshadow every story of Covid-19 and the world’s efforts to contain it. With over 27 million cases (presumably many more that have gone undetected) around the world and almost 900,000 deaths, it is for good reason.

However, the unforeseen tragedy and impact has been the mental health strain it has had on everyone. From migrant workers in Singapore to employees around the world that struggle with changing workplaces and job uncertainty. Yesterday, I had a fellow entrepreneur cry in front of me as he realised he is mostly going to have to shut down his business due to the continuing pandemic.

According to a Mercer study called Global Talent Trends Study, only 45% of executives surveyed believe that their workforce can adapt to the ‘new normal’ However, what the survey also found was that only 14% of the companies in the study have conducted an internal survey, interview or focus groups to understand what employees are thinking and feeling.

This is not that commonly known, but Southeast Asia has always had problems with mental health. According to the World Health Organisation, up to 86 million people in the region live with depression and 60 million experience anxiety. This is a terrifying number when you consider the sheer volume.

So the interesting thing is that COVID-19 has brought this to the forefront of the corporate world and we are seeing change. In Malaysia, we decided to speak to Azran Osman-Rani, the CEO and co-founder of Naluri, a digital health startup that focuses on mental health well-being. They recently announced that Malaysian Aviation Group (MAG) has partnered with them to help their employees deal with the stress and unknowns around the travel industry.

How has the corporate attitude to mental health wellbeing changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?

The attitude towards mental health has changed quite tremendously. The stigma barriers are coming down. We now see corporate employers ready to launch employee mental health support programmes, and once launched, the employees are ready to participate – not only to sign up for safe and confidential digital support channels, but also to reach out to our psychologists at on-site programmes or actively participate in webinars where their identities are visible to other colleagues.

What were some of the major shifts in the industry over these last few months?

Although the healthcare industry has a long way to go to reach digital maturity and widespread adoption, there are discernible shifts in the last few months with COVID-19. While many are talking about the increasing use of video-conferencing tools for tele-health consultations, the bigger structural shifts go far beyond telemedicine.

  1. The surge of digital therapeutics, led by bellwether public-listed Livongo Health Inc., shows that healthcare for chronic conditions is going beyond transactional consultations to structured multi-month programmes that deliver real health improvements.
  2. The healthcare industry is also changing from being siloed with individual specialists, to one where patients receive support from a multidisciplinary care team, especially when mental health is combined with physical health.

What are the services you are offering to MAG in this partnership?

We’re offering MAG our Digital Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) 2.0. The programme not only allows employees to reach out and get help in an unlimited way, through multiple channels (24/7 hotline, video therapy sessions, digital application) and with unlimited usage, but we provide structured coaching to deliver improvements in mental health, by actively reaching out to check-in, help solve issues that they face while equipping them with relevant tools to maintain their well-being. EAP 2.0 comprises:

  • Dedicated digital support Hub To Cater For All (remote therapy, dedicated hotline, educational website with webinars, blogs, infographics, newsletters)
  • Clinically Validated Mental Health Assessment
  • Personalised Multi-disciplinary Online Coaching
  • Digital Tools Rooted in Science

With our integrated and holistic health approach that combines mental health and physical health, led by a behavioural psychologist as a health coach, we are able to deliver quantifiable improvements that are clinically-significant.

What is next for Naluri?

Naluri is primarily about helping people achieve clinically-significant health outcomes. Therefore, we want to get better at delivering these and to get digital therapeutics recognised especially after how the pandemic has forced a lot of face-to-face interactions to move online. In the next 12 months, we’re also planning to have a much more stable footing and recognition in Indonesia and Singapore, and hopefully to start gaining traction in the Philippines and Thailand.

We also spoke to the Group Chief Executive Officer of the Malaysia Aviation Group, Captain Izham Ismail about the partnership and what it means to their company.

Group Chief Executive Officer of the Malaysia Aviation Group, Captain Izham Ismail

What was the reason behind bringing Naluri onboard to introduce mental health services to your staff?

MAG puts people first at the heart of everything we do. We launched our Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) back in March 2020 to provide employees with the support they need to cope during these challenging times and care for their psychosocial health (Mental, Social, Emotional, and Spiritual).

With the drastic changes in routine and norms as a result of the global lockdown, we acknowledge that some people may face greater challenges than the other. Being a caring employer, we wanted to reach out to them to understand their needs better, and not just via one way communication. Hence as an extension of our EAP, we took it a step further by collaborating with Naluri to leverage their digital expertise and technologies. This is part of our digital well-being platform, MHeart which advocates for a Healthy Mind, Healthy Body.

In addition, we have also provided access to financial counselling and financial literacy courses through engagements with Agensi Kaunseling Pengurusan Kredit (AKPK) in Malaysia and other financial bodies across the Group’s network at international stations, as part of the EAP.

Do you see this as a long-term employee benefit?

Our employees’ well-being always remains of the utmost priority. Especially, when we have four different generations (Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z) – making up our workforce today, with each generation having different mindsets, beliefs and coping mechanisms.

Our goal is to ensure we can provide better support for our MAG family members in the long-term.

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