This Mumbai-based startup by psychiatrists is addressing mental health during coronavirus
We all are feeling it. While the skies may be clear, these days of the coronavirus-led lockdown are gloomy. Various health experts are reporting a steep rise in mental illness since the coronavirus outbreak began in the country. A recent survey conducted by the Indian Psychiatry Society revealed that there is up to a 20 percent increase in cases related to mental health issues. It also stated that at least one out of every five Indians is suffering from mental illness during the nationwide lockdown, which is now extended till May 3.
To provide an extended support system for people in these challenging socio-economic times, InnerHour, a Mumbai-based mental health platform, is extending its digital programmes and self-help tools to healthcare professionals, WFH employees of companies, and university students to support their mental wellbeing. The services will be provided on a pro bono basis, that is, free of cost.
“There are two types of people right now, one who already has psychological difficulties or psychological needs, symptoms which might be getting worse or new symptoms are showing, and the other group has never experienced any psychological need and now they are seeing new symptoms,” Dr Amit Malik, Co-Founder and CEO, InnerHour, tells YourStory.
And the cases in both categories, he adds, are rising during the lockdown. “People are feeling ambiguity and uncertainty around multiple parameters, including financial, relationships, work, health. So, people need more help in these times,” tells Dr Amit. He also mentions that there is a 60 percent increase in session bookings with therapists after the lockdown.
InnerHour is an app which offers a range of clinical tools and self-help psychological activities, topical content and webinars, bot-based check-ins and voice/video therapy sessions in seven Indian languages.
Launched by Dr Amit Malik and Neha Kirpal about two years ago, InnerHour focuses on providing self-help AI-based tools, personalised programmes, support communities, and a step-care approach. It uses algorithms and data/intelligence with the guidance of trained therapists to identify unique user needs and create a highly personalised programme suitable for each user. The users have the option to engage with a live therapist via text/voice/video; through a network of 150 therapists across India.
In addition to InnerHour’s programme for depression, stress and anxiety, the startup launched a coronavirus-focused programme which is freely available to everybody. The company has also onboarded NGOs and organisations working directly with coronavirus patients, and hospitals like Medanta, to provide them with free information and understanding with expert inputs. The company is conducting webinars where participants can have live Q&A sessions with senior mental health experts. Besides that, the company is giving access to its entire content ecosystem to the frontline workers.
Earlier this was part of the company’s B2B offering only, but the startup wanted to become a support system in such testing times.
“We are working very quickly to make a lot of our content and webinars available in other Indian languages as well for wider and inclusive support. A lot of these programmes were closed programmes, and now we are just ramping up at the backend so that we can offer a larger ecosystem for the mental health needs in India,” tells Neha Kirpal, Co-Founder of InnerHour.
According to the founders’ estimates, India today has a third of the world’s cases of depression, addiction and suicide, as the country has around 197 million people with mental health issues and report a suicide every 17 seconds (as per a report in The Lancet Psychiatry). Despite the staggering numbers, there is a 95 percent treatment gap due to the lack of access, awareness and affordability and the variable quality of mental healthcare providers.
As on today, InnerHour claims to have close to 6 lakh users across the world, and one of the top-rated apps on the app stores. Dr Amit says that 40 percent of the downloads are currently from India, with a similar number coming from the United States.
Apart from an increase in the app downloads, the goal tracking feature on the InnerHour app (which is a sort of to do list) has seen significant increase in engagement
"Weekly we would see users tracking 7-8 goals overall now it's around 12. Some of the common issues addressed by the app are anxiety-related symptoms, OCD related symptoms, lack of motivation during the lockdown, feeling guilt for not being able to do enough for the people who are suffering due to COVID-19, healthcare workers and migrants, healthcare workers experience anxiety about infection risk to self and onwards to other patients and family members, concerns around quarantine and increase in verbal abuse, reporting of new cases with anxiety, those with pre-existing condition (anxiety) are reporting increase in the same, especially OCD, panic, existential worries on the rise with more people asking," he adds.
This, the founders say, is due to lack of motivation resulting in lack of structure and vice-versa, WFH and it's challenges — increased work, productivity concerns, WLB concerns, increased feelings of loneliness, isolation & thus depression.
"These are trends and data points from 100 cities globally including 60+ from all over India including Tier-II & III cities like Jaipur, Indore, Lucknow, Chandigarh, Vishakhapatnam, Mohali, Surat, and Mangaluru," says Dr Amit.
Amit studied MBBS in India and then earned his specialist and sub-specialist training in Psychiatry in the UK. He also holds an MBA degree from the London School of Business. Before starting InnerHour, Amit worked as a psychiatrist outside of India for 13 years and even spearheaded tech innovation partnerships for delivering mental health services at scale. After this, he held numerous leadership roles with large mental health organisations as Board Member, Clinical Director, and Associate Medical Director. Amit has also been on the board of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the European Board of Psychiatry, and the standing committees of the European Psychiatric Association.
He was passionate about addressing the treatment gap in mental health in India, and wanted to do that by leveraging technology. To do so, he came back to India and set up up InnerHour in 2016.
He was joined by Neha Kirpal, who shared a similar passion and had worked at the intersection of the creative and social sectors. Having founded India’s first international art fair, she ran it successfully for ten years before selling the business to MCH Basel and shifting her focus to mental health. Neha is also a trained counsellor and a mental health caregiver. An Aspen fellow and an Eisenhower fellow, Neha is part of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders community and a recipient of the President of India’s prestigious Nari Shakti Award.
(Edited by Kanishk Singh)