Consider this – at least 40 percent of people in India suffer from significant stress. This is a conservative estimate and when converted into numbers, research shows that more than 400 million people suffer from stress that develops and manifests itself in the form of depression, anxiety and its consequent problems like anger, addictions, relationship issues and, in the worst cases, suicide and death.
We all know that stress affects our life and health adversely and is a malady that needs to be addressed, but we often prefer to ignore it. Started in March 2016, Seraniti leverages technology to provide high quality empathic, effective counselling and psychotherapy services through an online platform to help people tackle stress and its detrimental effects.
Serenity through Seraniti
Seraniti integrates western psychological insights with eastern wisdom and practices. “At Seraniti we use insights, practices and techniques from both the West and the East, and we integrate them for the new India - for those who are living in a time of great cultural transition and socio-economic change,” Says Dr. Shyam Bhat, Founder and CEO, Seraniti.
Currently, they cater to clients predominantly between the ages of 25-45, split equally between men and women. They do not cater to those below the age of 12 at the moment. Seraniti has clients all across the globe. As therapists abroad don’t share a similar cultural background, the Indian diaspora forms a major part of their clientele. In India, they have people reaching out to them from across the country, including not just Tier I and II cities, but small towns as well.
According to Dr. Shyam, “Due to social change in India, almost 35 percent of people have suffered a major depression episode in their life and 20 percent have major depression disorders. Some of the issues that people come to us with include stress, depression, bereavement, relationship troubles and work stress. People also come to us to find out more about themselves.”
The best of East and West
This integration of eastern and western techniques they practice is called Integral Self Therapy, and was developed by Dr. Shyam Bhat, who after 14 years in the US, moved to India in 2010. On his annual visits to India, Dr. Shyam had noticed the increasing levels of stress in the country owing to rapid growth and socio-economic and cultural changes.
“I saw that stigma and misinformation were preventing a lot of people from seeking the help they needed, and so I moved back to India with the intention of reducing stigma and increasing awareness about mental health.” He spent four years incessantly working to raise awareness about the issue and reduce stigma about mental health issues through talks, conferences and even a radio show, Heartline, which ran for two years. Simultaneously, he was managing his clinic and was also providing online therapy to clients in the US and India.
Since online counselling had garnered positive responses from many individuals, he decided to leverage it to start Seraniti.
Dr. Ashwin Naik, 43, an early stage investor and mentor says, “The vision is to create the fist integrated mental health online service with three important components – the first is therapy, an app for support and easy access, and wearable monitoring devices; second are the skilled professionals trained by Dr. Shyam and his team; and lastly, a rich data analytics, where based on an individual’s behaviour, interaction and thought patterns, one can predict trigger points for the individual- a sort of predictive wellness system.”
Dr. Shyam (44) started with a team of three and now has a team of 16 trained professionals. They have launched an app that makes it easy to facilitate appointments. Customers send in a message via the website and then the team reaches out to them. According to Dr. Shyam, research shows that online counselling and psychological services are effective and accessible as long as they are of high quality. “In fact, for many who do not want to be seen visiting a therapist, it provides not just confidentiality but also easy access.”
“One of our clients in Dubai had a panic attack, and we helped her out using WhatsApp,” says Dr. Shyam, citing how they can leverage technology to reach out to their customers.
Since technology is a primary driver for Seraniti, they are constantly tweaking their process to ensure that they are easy to access by even the most tech-challenged person. “We are also building partnerships with technology providers and will soon integrate biometrics and health data from wearable devices. This will help enhance the efficacy of therapy even further and we will collect data to demonstrate that,” says Dr. Shyam.
Quality is primary
Both Dr. Ashwin and Dr. Shyam lay emphasis on the importance of quality in this sector. Dr. Shyam says, “We are not here to compete for the market. We want more psychologists of high quality to join our team and we hope to expand our presence and visibility significantly in the next few months.” In the coming months, they are going to spread across almost 16 cities, including Mumbai, Pune and others, to facilitate face-to-face interaction with clients to increase their reach.
Their validation has been their customers. Though the company has been bootstrapped, they have already been breaking even. The response they have received has only gone to show that the price of their sessions had to be revised as the customer base and team size increased from Rs 500 to Rs 1500. “People coming back for multiple sessions shows that we are making a difference and delivering outcomes for them,” Dr. Shyam says.
The aim is to help people discover themselves, and set goals for themselves that Dr. Shyam and his team can map out for the customer.
“Our biggest drive, though, is in helping people achieve their highest potential. We see emotional challenges as an opportunity for the individual to discover their truest and highest self. We want to influence the conversation about mental health and wellness so that every Indian knows the importance of psychological health and does not hesitate to seek help when they need it,” says Dr. Shyam.
Major challenges in scaling
Some of the challenges that the company will face as they scale are to attract the right kind of trained professionals, look at integration of AI and machine learning to smartly build the next generation of services and keep the focus on quality rather than on numbers.
Type A Thought, a Mumbai-based digital counselling platform, Gurgoan’s ePsyclinic and Ahmedabad’s OoWomaniya are some other players in the market taking advantage of the anonymity of the online world to convince patients to seek professional help. YourDOST, an emotional wellness and counselling platform, has even received $1.2 million as part of its pre-Series A round led by SAIF Partners. 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. Even the WHO is working on a Mental Health Action Plan (2013-2020).
Mental health and wellness is a sector that is going to attract more and more attention in the coming years as stress and depression increase. Most people will seek help as awareness increases and people reach out for help. Startups like Seraniti can play a major role by using an integrated approach that not just addresses issues but also integrates app, data and new age technology to predict triggers and create an integrated wellness system.