Lee Kyung-ran, who has been working as a therapist for the past 15 years, has ditched face-to-face consultations thanks to a growing demand for phone and virtual sessions after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since late 2019, she has been offering therapy sessions through Naver eXpert, a service launched by the country’s largest portal Naver. Naver eXpert provides a wide range of one-on-one online consultations and classes from experts including lawyers, accountants and asset consultants.
The number of sessions she has offered through the online platform exceeds 1,200 in the last two years. A session typically takes about 50 minutes.
“I think people find non-face-to-face therapy more comfortable and accessible, especially during the pandemic. I don’t think there’s much difference between therapy sessions conducted in an office and virtual ones in terms of effectiveness,” she said.
According to Naver eXpert, the demand for psychological consultations showed the highest growth among other sectors of services it provides, soaring 237 percent in the first 11 months of 2021 from the same period a year earlier.
“It seems that demand has grown as people seek to cope with stress and depression caused by restrictions on outdoor activities due to the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic,” a Naver official said.
While there are some who feel anxiety and distress due to social distancing and working from home, these conditions have been beneficial for some as well. It has allowed some people time alone to look into their inner selves and find underlying mental health issues they have had from before the pandemic, Lee said.
Jumping on the bandwagon of the growing virtual mental health services market is Trost, a mental health platform launched by the healthcare IT firm Humart Company.
In June, Trost received an investment worth 3 billion won ($2.5 million) from L&S Venture Capital and KDB Capital Corp. to expand its mobile application services, which provides anonymous psychological counseling, an AI chatbot service for mind management and information about psychiatric medications.
“We plan to rapidly expand our service area by taking bold steps to solve problems in the mental health care market,” the firm’s CEO Kim Dong-hyun said.
According to Statistics Korea, there was a total of 13,195 deaths by sucide in 2021. Korea had the highest recorded suicide rate among OECD member nations, with an average of 36 people choosing to end their lives per day.
But the rate of mental health services usage in Korea last year stood at 7.2 percent, which is much lower than the United States (43.1 percent), Canada (46.5 percent) and Australia (34.9 percent), according to survey results released by the Ministry of Health and Welfare on Dec. 26.
By Park Han-na (firstname.lastname@example.org