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Can This Founder Solve Japan’s Hidden Mental Health Problem? – Hikari Labs

By Tim Romero: Serial startup founder in Japan and indomitable innovator

Seeking help for even minor mental health problems still carries a stigma in Japan. This is particularly unfortunate because clinical research shows that a significant portion of Japanese adults suffer from depression or other mental illnesses. Ayako Shimizu, the founder of Hikari Labs, has an innovative approach that represents a huge step forward in addressing this problem. Hikari Labs develops and distributes video games based on cognitive behavior therapy, and these games enable players to literally train their brains out of depression. Her approach bypasses both the stigma and costs involved in seeking treatment. Even in conservative Japan, she is seeing increasing and enthusiastic adoption by corporate wellness programs. But this whole project was almost shut down by the very people who should have been helping her. Ayako has a fascinating story, and I think you’ll really enjoy it. Show Notes for Startups How gaming can treat depression and reduce suicide rates Why marketing mental health games is so challenging The changing profiles of Japanese who suffer depression Why women have higher rates of depression, but lower rates of suicide How Ayako's University tried to put a stop to this project How to build a business model around mental health Why conservative corporations are on the forefront of improving mental health in Japan Links from the Founder Hikari Labs homepage Online counseling YouTube video Todai Shinbun article Follow Ayako on Twitter @Hikari_Lab_Inc Friend her on Facebook Try out SPARX SPARX for iPhone/iPad SPARX for Android Clinical Journal on SPARX [shareaholic app="share_buttons" id="7994466"] Leave a comment Transcript from Japan   Disrupting Japan, episode 85. Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. Now long-term listeners know that this show is not really about start-ups. Well, of course it’s about start-ups, but it’s about so much more than that. Japanese start-ups give us a unique perspective on Japanese society. Looking at the problems that need to be solved, the path people are taking to try to solve them, and seeing what challenges society throw up against them can tell us more about a country or a society than mountains of surveys and piles of longitudinal studies. Start-ups tell us the kind of future that people envision, and how the present plans on resisting the future. Nowhere is this more true than with today’s guest. Ayako Shimizu, founder of Hikari Labs. Ayako is developing and marketing video games to treat mental illness, and she has the clinical data that shows the approach has real therapeutic value. And yet, perhaps unsurprisingly, Japanese academia and the medical industry as a whole have been—Well, let’s just say less supportive of her efforts. But still she’s seen steady increases in both the number of users and growing interest from a surprising segment of corporate Japan. But you know, Ayako tells that story much better than I can. So let’s here from our sponsor and get right to the interview. [pro_ad_display_adzone id="1404"  info_text="Sponsored by"  font_color="grey" ]  [Interview] Tim: So I’m sitting here with Ayako Shimizu of Hikari Labs, and thanks for sitting down with me. Ayako: Thank you, Tim, for inviting me here. Tim: Now Hikari Labs is focused on improving mental health through software, I guess. But why don’t you tell us a bit about what Hikari Labs does and what it’s mission is. Ayako: Okay, well Hikari Labs currently have two services. One is online counseling called Kokoro Works, and another one is this game application called Sparx, which was developed at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

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