The former head of customer growth at ride hailing giant Careem is set to drive home the importance of mental health awareness across the Middle East with the launch of uMore, an AI-powered mental wellbeing platform.
Maria de Freitas told Arabian Business she was inspired to create the start-up, which combines tracking capabilities and social features to allow for better access to care, after witnessing the struggles of her 17-year-old sister, who was forced into isolation as a result of contracting Covid-19 earlier in the summer.
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She said: “Not only did she end up in a depression, she actually spent her 18th birthday on her own, in a room, locked. All of this cycled into her struggling with her mental health. I felt so helpless that I could do nothing. I was stuck in Dubai, she wouldn’t talk about it because she was a teenager.”
That led her to join a hackathon in the UK with the NHS to suggest ways of fighting the global pandemic and, together with a group of friends, they prototyped uMore.
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“The problem with mental health is you feel bad, but you just don’t know how bad you’re actually doing and it’s very hard to express, especially in this region where there’s so much stigma. It’s really hard to ask for help,” she said.
The uMore app is a mental wellbeing platform that aims to help users better manage their mental health. Since wellbeing changes gradually and downturn triggers are hard to pinpoint, with the use of behavioral science and AI technology, the platform helps users understand patterns and visualise their progression.
De Freitas revealed that in the Middle East, per 100,000 population in the UAE, there’s only one psychologist. In comparison, in the US, which is one of the places with the biggest shortfall, there’s 30. In Europe it increases to 50 or 60. “There’s a huge shortfall in access to care,” she said.
uMore co-founder and CEO Maria Freitas
On the platform, users have the ability to not only track their mental health on their own, but also to add trusted people to their safe circle, be it a friend, a relative or even their physician.
“This is incredibly important. In any mental health situation; in any situation of recovery, the first step is disclosure, and we’re talking of any type of condition. It is you disclosing that this is happening to you and if you do not take that step, it is very difficult to recover. Disclosure is also about self-acceptance, it is about an understanding that I need to do something to feel better,” she added.
The group has a scientific team from the University of Glasgow and has partnered with Dr Louise Lambert, who is head of the happiness programme at…