Breaking the stigma of mental illness, YOURDost aims to help millions open up
"When I was at IIT Guwahati, my hostel mate committed suicide. She was worried about her placements. This could have been avoided if we knew what she was going through. Even though we had counsellors and psychologists in the campus hardly any student was seeking their support or help," says Richa Singh, Founder of YourDOST.
When Richa started working on this issue she discovered that many people around her were stressed because of job pressures and relationship issues. However, most of these people were not willing to talk about their problems fearing social implications.
While in today's world technology has made connections easier, Richa believes that we are still lonely. With this belief, Richa along with a few friends started YourDOST – an emotional wellness platform. One can seek support from experts like psychologists, coaches, and other psychiatrists.
She brainstormed together with Puneet Manuja and tried creating a business idea. The fact that they did not come from the field of psychology was a drawback initially. Thus, the duo decided to approach many psychologists. They began with taking notes and writing blog posts on what the psychologists would tell them.
Richa's friend Satyajeet helped with the coding of the platform. However, since he was based out of US, there were challenges. So Richa met Prakhar Verma, who joined as the CTO. "I remember we were sitting in Costa Coffee and he didn’t even spend a minute and agreed to take our product to the next level. Even since things have been falling in place," says Richa.
Breaking down the key aspects
The experts can help in:
- Creating healthy ppersonal relationships.
- A productive and satisfying work-life balance.
- A more focussed approach towards achieving your goals.
- Building self-confidence.
- The ability to deal with pressure of all kinds and from many sources - personal, societal, and peer.
YourDOST allows instant access to users to share their problems through an online interface. There is a team of over 75 experts. One of the key aspects of this venture is that people are kept completely anonymous throughout the platform.
This, Richa adds, is to reduce the stigma attached to seeking help for mental illness in our country and with the use of technology, make expert help widely and instantly available to people looking for emotional and mental well-being.
Mental but not necessarily mad
"However ironic it may sound, the word 'mental' is associated with madness and insanity. As a result, seeking mental counselling is a huge taboo in our society. Seeking support is considered a sign of weakness. Most of the times we keep our problems to ourselves because we are not very comfortable accepting our vulnerabilities," adds Richa.
She adds that they believe technology is a potential contender for filling these gaps, especially in the case of anonymity and reach.
Mental healthcare as a field is largely in India. That’s one of the challenges mental health brings with it. Counselling sessions are mostly about empowering you to take decisions which would help make things better, not about preaching or prescribing medicines.
"With the attention that mental healthcare is able to grab today, from celebrities to investors, we believe we are at an inflection point of the mental healthcare industry," adds Richa.
Life by numbers
Since inception in December 2014, the platform has received close to 70,000 users so far and has been growing at about 40 per cent month-on-month. With 10,000 registered users currently, a team of over 75 experts service around 300 one to one interactions on a daily basis.
"We were bootstrapped in the initial period of our operations. We have now raised close to $400,000 (Rs. 2.5 crore) in Angel round. Owing to the uniqueness of the idea, we were able to attract established entrepreneurs like Phanindra Sama (Redbus Founder), Aprameya Radhakrishna (TaxiForSure Founder), Aneesh Reddy (Capillary Founder) and many seasoned investors like Sanjay Anandaram (Seedfund), Venk Krishnan (NuVentures), etc., to our investor portfolio," says Richa.
Mental healthcare is still in its nascent stages and has started to see an influx of startups trying to enter lately. Currently, YourDOST is looking at helping individuals, they also intend to help conduct sessions with corporates as well.
Their plan is to focus on the Indian market and crack this completely. They want to become a one-stop solution for people's wellness, be it personal, professional, or academic. “The raised funds will help us scale our efforts and have a pan India presence with a great portfolio of experts on the platform, says Richa.”
What does data say?
According to a World Health Organization (WHO) study, India is home to the largest number of depressed individuals. The WHO World Mental Health Survey 2010 also lists suicide as the third largest cause of death in 15 – 35 year olds. India accounts for 32 per cent of the world’s suicides.
Today, with the need to create awareness of seeking help in such cases, several organisations like The White Swan Foundation, Live Love Foundation, and HealthEminds among many others are striving to break the stigma associated with mental illnesses.