In a world where technology is advancing faster than ever before, it's no surprise that mental health is becoming a hot topic.
With anxiety and stress on the rise, it's important to have resources that can help us take care of our mental well-being. Heyr is a mental health app designed specifically for Gen Z by co-founders Lee McPherson and Kevin Kwong.
Lee, a tech entrepreneur and Kevin, a medical scientist and Imperial College alumni, set out to make mental healthcare more accessible, personal and inclusive. They have assembled an award-winning team of experts in clinical psychology, behavioural science research, and machine learning and are actively looking for new ways to create entry points for more diverse, broader conversations.
We spoke with the pair to discuss their mission towards more accessible, affordable and relatable mental health support for everyone.
What was the need for Heyr?
Kevin: The prioritisation of mental and emotional health—how you actually feel versus how you look—is key to understanding Generation Z. Indeed, 84 percent of Gen Zers agree that mental health is just as important as physical health, and 76 percent agree that they want to live in a world where people openly talk about their mental health.
As deep-set stigma persists, we can expect even more innovations by and for Gen Z to further normalise caring for your mental health.You can see the barrier to entry is becoming lower, especially for the younger side of Gen Z. There is a top-down model that’s since been replaced by the democratised YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram, which offer exposure to many different kinds of narratives and to the truth.
So tell us, what inspired you to create Heyr?
Lee: The story of Heyr began almost two years ago, I have had some personal experience with mental health so it was very close to me as I was already working on a mental health app and through a mutual friend was introduced to Kevin. Kevin had a lot of experience in telehealth startups and was an alumnus of Imperial College. Through a series of social meet-ups with Kevin, we discussed work and realised we shared a passion for creating something impactful in the mental health space. Shortly thereafter, and alongside a programme with London Southbank University we were inspired to rebrand and create Heyr, an app that makes caring for your mental health accessible and rewarding. One of the coolest things about what we do is our commitment to breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health. Kevin: Exactly. We also wanted to make sure that people could get support whenever they needed it, not just during office hours. Heyr gives young people 24/7 access to expert-backed mental health information that they can trust and that feels relatable, relevant, and actually doable.
Can you tell us a bit more about how Heyr works?
Lee: The app is super simple to use, as soon as you sign up with your email or phone number, you will be asked a few social questions to get to know you better. Then, Heyr will suggest a quick check-in before diving into any areas you might want to work on. It's like having a personal cheerleader in your pocket!
Kevin: The app offers a range of mental health support tools, including self-guided cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in a conversational style. We address over 30 lifestyle challenges, for example cost of living crisis, loneliness, and social media addiction. We also have a daily mental health check-in, which is kind of like an MOT, to help users stay on top of their mental health.
Why is the daily MOT important?
Lee: Mental fitness is like physical fitness, when you are engaging in mind-body strategies, like daily check-in and journaling, you can better handle life’s challenges and more days in which you are performing at your best. Like a vehicle requiring an MOT, in this instance, MOT is about keeping your Mind on track. The MOT is a really important part of our app. It's a daily check-in that takes just a few minutes, and it helps people to track their mood, identify any triggers or stressors, and set goals for the day ahead.
Why are daily check-ins important?
Kevin: People often think about mental health as something that you focus on only when you're in crisis, rather than as a crucial part of how you show up in the world. However, taking care of your mental health doesn't have to be expensive, inaccessible, or time-consuming.
What kind of feedback have you had from users?
Kevin: We've had some amazing feedback so far. People really appreciate the convenience of being able to access support whenever they need it, especially during the night, and they love the fact that Heyr offers rewards. It was a pretty proud moment when we won the App of the Year at the 2023 BTA awards, which was sponsored by JP Morgan.
Lee: We've had some users telling us that Heyr has been life-changing for them, and helped them open up about their struggles for the first time - which is just incredible to hear.
What is Heyr doing to raise awareness about mental health?
Kevin: Well, we're really passionate about creating more entry points for mental health conversations. For this year’s Mental Health Awareness Month, we're launching a new campaign to encourage people to talk more openly about their experience, and we're also offering a challenge where users can track their mood through daily check-ins over the 10 days of the month.
Lee: We're also onboarding a number of brand partners, again making check-ins a reward experience.
Image by Fox on Pexels
What really stands out is that Heyr particularly aligns with the lifestyle of Gen Z, incorporating elements of fashion and music. Can you tell us more about that?
Kevin: Yes, absolutely. We recognise that Gen Z is a generation that values self-expression and creativity. We wanted to create an app that reflects that and helps users feel empowered to express themselves in a way that feels authentic to them. Fashion and music are two examples of how Gen Z expresses themselves, and we wanted to incorporate those elements into the Heyr app via the reward partners.
Lee: It's also important to note that these elements aren't just for show. Fashion and music can actually have a positive impact on mental health. Studies have shown that creative expression can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and being part of a community can increase feelings of social connectedness and belonging.
So the app is not just about providing support, but also creating a space for self-expression and community-building?
Lee: Exactly. We believe that mental health is not just about treating symptoms but also about promoting overall well-being and sustaining it. Heyr is designed to be cool and engaging, where users can connect offline and feel inspired to live their best lives.
I have also noticed that Heyr has a distinct visual identity, with bold imagery and graphics. Why do you think it's important for a mental health app to have an identity?
Kevin: From our research with students and young patients, we recognised that there is a whole vibe shift among Gen Z-founded and -focused well-being brands. Young people want something that is fluid, approachable, and inclusive. When you open Heyr, you know right away that it's a positive space where you can be yourself.
Lastly, I want to touch on the importance of diversity. How does Heyr prioritise diversity and inclusivity?
Kevin: Diversity and inclusivity are at the core of our business. Mental health affects people from all backgrounds; that's why we work hard to ensure that our product and team reflect that and that our content is inclusive and representative of different cultures, identities, and experiences.
Lee: We also recognise that mental health is often stigmatised in certain communities, and we want to help break down those barriers. We are working with universities and organisations that support mental health in underserved communities, and we're always looking for ways to make our app more accessible and relevant to everyone.