Tech, Now + Beyond

Startup apps that are taking the reins of mental health care in India

In a country where the discourse on mental health is frowned upon, apps are proving to be the only easy way to seek professional help.

In my final year at university, I was assigned the task of making a documentary about the mental health care scenario in India. I went ahead with it like I would with any other assignment, but the more I researched and learned about the issue, the more concerned I became and soon the assignment turned into a personal mission to spread awareness. I now believe that no matter how many documentaries or articles I make based on the topic, it will never seem enough to me.

We all are familiar with the stigma attached to the conversation over mental health all over the world but compared to the west, India still has a lot to learn. Indians often fall short of providing support and care to those who wish to discuss their mental health issues openly.

Quoting data from National Commission on Macroeconomics and Health, 2005, the last report available:

Nearly 60 million people in India suffer from mental disorders, out of which nearly 10-20 million (1-2% of the population) Indians suffered from severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and nearly 50 million (5% of population) suffered from common mental disorders like depression and anxiety

One major aspect that India lacks in terms of the mental health care scenario, is psychiatrists. The reason being the vast population of India. A huge portion of the mental health care facilities is concentrated in the urban cities and the private sectors. That makes them financially inaccessible for the people below the poverty line, which is a big number in itself.  A conclusion drawn from a report by WHO states that India has only 3 psychiatrists per million people.

For someone with anxiety like mine-who needs professional help but is held back by the fear of being judged-having mobile applications that provide help at the touch of a button is something to be grateful for.

There is a dire need for convenient, affordable and professional provisions of mental health support in India and there are startups catering to just that. While we work on getting rid of the stigma and make the discussion on mental health in India more practicable, having helpful technology like this can save a lot of lives.

1. YourDOST

(Image Description: Screenshot of a conversation between Shruti Singhal and the user (Shri). Shruti Singhal: Hi Shri. Good evening. Shri: Hello. Please help me. Shruti Singhal: Yes sure, how may I help you Shri. Would you like to tell me what’s on your mind? Shri: I’m feeling blue these days.) Via Google
(Image Description: The logo for YourDOST- a yellow circle with a black border around it. The word ‘YourDOST’ is written under a graphic of two faces facing away from each other.) Via Google

(‘Dost’ means friend in Hindi)

Founded by IIT  alumnus, Richa Singh, YourDOST is a platform that provides online counseling and cultivates emotional wellness. It connects people in need to experts like psychologists, psychotherapists, counselors, life coaches and career guides. It offers anonymity and confidentiality both of which are good encouragements for getting people to share.

YourDOST has counselors that prioritized my issues and helped me find the root cause of my problems. The help provided at YourDOST is the perfect combination of professional, mixed with friendly and comforting.

2. Wysa

(Image Description: The logo of the app- a graphic of a penguin over the word Wysa.) Via Wysa
(Image Description: A photo of a mobile with a conversation on Wysa in the screen. There is a graphic of the penguin peeking from above the phone and says “Organise your thoughts”. The conversation reads- Wysa: Let’s try the ‘thoughtpad’. It’ll help organize your thoughts and find your focus. User: I’ll try it. Wysa: Great. Breathe deeply ,and watch your thoughts as they appear for a minute or two. Write each thought down in the text box as it comes to you. We’ll organize them later. ) Via Wysa

An adorable chatbot penguin that empathizes with you and listens to your rants while keeping all conversations anonymous. Wysa is an AI-based chatbot that uses evidence-based cognitive-behavioral techniques (CBT). Jo Aggarwal and Ramakant Vempati founded the app to help people manage their thoughts and emotions. It tracks the user’s sleep and other activities by proactively engaging with the user.

I love ranting to this little guy. By linking to the health app on my phone, it tracked my workout and sleep activities and analyzed my behavior. The guided mindfulness meditations really got me through the tough days.

3. Happy Being

(Image Description: This is the opening screen of the app- graphics of a meadow under two mountains with snow tops, the sun and clouds. The words “Happy Being” are written in the centre.)
(Image Description: A screenshot from the app that says- 50+ Relaxation techniques, involving body and mind. When you feel jittery or low, use the techniques in relax and relieve to learn to relax instantly. Try the techniques to discover which technique works best for you.)

Happy Being is a self-improvement app by nSmiles that offers personalized guided meditations, assessments, and activities. It caters to students, job seekers, working professionals, healthcare staff, homemakers, and senior citizens. By means of a tracker, the app helps people set, prioritize and achieve goals. One of its many features, ‘Relax and relieve’, contains Relax Audio, a De-stress journal, and my favorite: Affirmations.

I love how this app personalizes everything to suit my specific needs. The writing prompts along with the daily journal entries helped me put my emotions to the forefront and tackle them. I couldn’t help going back to the affirmations over and over again for boosts of confidence throughout the day.

There are many more upcoming online counseling platforms like Trijog, Seraniti, HealthEminds, and ePsyclinic that are making professional help as accessible as possible with the help of technology and digital media. These startups are a great step forward in the process of change and don’t make the future world where mental health care is a top priority, seem so far away.