Mental health needs to be a priority and these startups show why

13th Dec 2017
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For decades the discussion on mental health issues has been swiped under the rug, to a point where all you see is a mountain of the problem and no rug big enough to cover it. What or who is to blame. Well, there are multiple factors which have lead to the increment of stressors in our lives. Be it the fast-paced nature of our lives, or fleeting relations, or incessant work stress, or even excessive pressure to succeed, our minds and lives constantly tread precariously on the edge.

You don’t always need the numbers to understand the mental health crisis that India is facing, but it sure does put the gravity of the situation in context. The numbers show that 57 million Indians are affected by depression and 36% are likely to suffer a mental health ailment at some point in their lives. According to World Health Organization (WHO), India is one of the most depressed countries in the world. 

Though the discourse on mental health is shaping up there is still a long way to go before we address the elephant in the room. With a population of 1.3 billion and scarcity of resources, the conversation is plagued by a number of factors. First, there just aren’t enough doctors and specialists in the field – only 10% of Indians get treated for mental illness. Here’s a fact: there are just three psychiatrists for every 10-lakh Indian citizens. Add to this the stigma attached to it in most families and communities, and it is not hard to see that we have woven is a web of denial around mental health.

However, there are signs of positive change too. Mental health awareness is trickling in and the discourse around mental health is getting a lot more structured and articulate than it has been in the past. From celebrities sharing their personal stories of dealing with the crisis, to Twitter threads on managing stress and anxiety, to the recently passed Mental Healthcare Bill, the country is trudging towards making progress in this space.

Witnessing the nature of the problems and the ripe opportunities in the field, many startups have taken the mantle to push the discussion. From connecting citizens with mental health professionals, to using AI and deep tech to identify and cure mental health challenges, startup circles are starting to take a more holistic view of health and wellness. We compile a list of startups which are leading the charge in the mental health sector: 

InnerHour

Medical insurance in India does not cover mental health which means that professional help can often get inaccessible to average citizens. InnerHour is bridging this gap by bringing therapy and consultation through online platforms like web and video chats and phone calls. Founded by psychiatrists Amit Malik and Shefali Batra, InnerHour comprises 18 full-time team members, including in-house therapists, healthcare professionals, a tech team, software developers and marketing, and operations.  

As of 2017, the company has approximately 6,000 users. Over 1.5 lakh individuals have taken their mental health assessment and InnerHour clocks in 300-400 therapist-client conversations every day and has over 1,000 regular paying clients.

Batlivala and Karani Securities and Venture Works were one of InnerHour’s initial investors. With them and other investors in place, the company has raised a total of $450,000 to date.

YOURDost

Founded by IIT-ian Richa Singh, YOURDost is an emotional wellness platform that connects individuals in need with experts like psychologists, life coaches, and psychiatrists. From balancing relationships to productivity, the ability to deal with societal, peer, and parental pressure, the company provides counselling and help on diverse topics through its online platform.

Since its inception in 2014, YOURDost has raised $400,000 in angel rounds from names like Phanindra Sama (Redbus Founder), Aprameya Radhakrishna (TaxiForSure Founder), Aneesh Reddy (Capillary Founder) and many seasoned investors like Sanjay Anandaram (Seedfund), and Venk Krishnan (NuVentures). Yet another round of significant funding came through in their 2016 pre-series A round led by SAIF Partners – a total of $1.2 million.

Wysa

Founded by Jo Aggarwal and Ramakant Vempati, Wysa is an AI-enabled mental health chatbot. The company also uses evidence-based techniques like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which understands the roots of the problem through empathetic and anonymous conversations. Among the mental and behavioural health use cases, Wysa supports anxiety, smoking cessation, diabetes, disability support and aims to reduce healthcare cost and improve adherence. Earlier this year, Wysa received seed fund of $1.3 million from early-stage investment firms Kae Capital and Angel Investors.

TrustCircle

Founded by Sachin Chaudhari in 2015, TrustCircle is a global digital startup that aims to make mental health care continuous, accessible, and affordable. The company believes in a preventive, participatory, and predictive approach to mental health care. Apart from resolving mental health care challenges free of cost, TrustCircle also has clinically validated and globally accepted MHealth Tests that determine depression, anxiety, stress, and substance addiction levels to create self-awareness and for individuals to know when to seek help. It also works with employers and charges a nominal cost for them to use mHealth Tests. Its mHealth Care tool helps connect users to forums, support groups, and appropriate resources for mental health care.

Trijog

Founded by mother-daughter duo Anureet and Arushi Sethi, Trijog is a social enterprise in the mental health space. From encouraging mindful living to promoting mental health awareness, Trijog is tackling a wide variety of challenges with the help of 20 psychologists from around the world who provide counselling to individuals, institutions, and corporates. This counselling happens by and large over the phone and digital interfaces. In just two years, Trijog has had a positive impact on over 4,500 lives in India as well as Dubai, Singapore, Korea, and the Philippines.

GrowthEX

GrowthEX is a global platform that enables professional and personal growth through online counselling, programmes, peer engagements and more. Founded by Varun Saxena, the platform now has over one lakh users, 5,000 counsellors, and 1000 programmes. It has regular, paying individuals using their counselling services across India, Qatar, Brazil, and Nigeria.Earlier this year, the company announced that it had received an undisclosed amount in funding from a group of angel investors in Chandigarh.

Seraniti

Founded by Dr Shyam Bhat just last year, Seraniti uses technology for high quality, empathic, effective counselling, and therapy services through an online platform. The company’s therapy techniques are rooted in western psychological insights and combine with eastern wisdom and practices, which gives it a deep cultural nuance as well as quick relatability. Seraniti received an undisclosed amount of angel funding from Ashwin Naik, founder of Vaatsalya Healthcare.

ePsyclinic

Another platform to connect individuals in need of therapy with mental health professionals, ePsyclinic is an online therapy platform that uses text, audio and video chat tools. Based out of Gurgaon, the company was founded by Shipra Dawar in 2015 and has over 25 full-time psychologists, psychiatrists, and gynaecologists on their rolls. It does specialized services like pregnancy and post-pregnancy wellness, relationship therapy, child and adolescent counselling, sexual wellness, as well as addiction support among others.

nSmiles

Founded in the year 2013, nSmiles offers learning tools, resources, and skills to handle existential challenges. From assessment and reports to counselling and expert recommendations, nSmiles too is bringing mental health conversations to the forefront using its Happy Being app. nSmiles has 800 people using their assessments to understand themselves and their minds better. The app has also seen over 1.5 lakh downloads.

HealthEminds

Founded by Ankita Puri and Dr Sunita Maheshwari in 2013, HealthEminds provides online and video counselling while keeping the identity of help seekers anonymous. Adopting a holistic approach to mental health treatment, the company has online psychiatry and counselling services combined with a seamless video tech platform that enables anonymity. The company addresses a wide variety of mental health challenges such as depression, stress, and anxiety, relationship troubles, sleep issues among others. In 2016, the company raised an undisclosed amount of angel funding led by cricketer Robin Uthappa and his Caffeine Ventures.

Although the startup ecosystem has activated this process of change, there still exists a massive dearth in the supply to demand proportion. Clearly a sign for many others to join the ranks, and not just to tap into the market but be the beacon for better days ahead. With technology and digital media making mental health care as ubiquitous and accessible as the internet itself, one can hope that in the coming years we will be able to beat the stigma attached to seeking help.

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