[App Fridays] Deal with stress and anxiety with this made in India mental health buddy

Bengaluru-headquartered app Wysa’s AI-enabled mental health ‘chatbot therapist’ provides a personalised toolkit to help you cope with depression, anxiety, sleep issues, and grief. It is used in 30 countries and has benefited more than 1.2 million people.

In the last few months, as the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, mental health has taken centre stage.

The World Health Organisation has stated that it is imperative to “look after our mental health” along with physical as we are faced with “new realities” of working from home, temporary unemployment, home schooling, and others.

Many health experts have said the mental health pandemic will outlast coronavirus. A recent global health survey by International Labour Organisation (ILO), reveals that one in two youngsters are prone to experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression, with over 17 percent suffering the consequences of COVID-19.

Faced with the fear of spread of COVID, health issues, job stress, disruptions, and social isolation, it is vital to destress.

Enter Wysa, a made in India app founded by Jo Aggarwal and Ramakant Vempati in 2015. The Bengaluru-headquartered app aims to be your emotional health buddy and well-being tracker by helping you chat with an AI-enabled mental health ‘chatbot therapist’ designed by therapists, coaches, users, and AI experts.

Wysa, which claims to offer support with mood tracking, finding optimism, and reframing thoughts in easy-to-understand and friendly chats, has so far been used in over 30 countries and has benefited more than 1.2 million people.

Wysa has been chosen as the best app to deal with COVID-19 stress and anxiety by ORCHA, the world’s leading health app evaluation and adviser organisation. The app has been rated 4.7 stars and has crossed one million downloads so far on Google Play Store.

Let us explore the app.

Be anonymous

The best part about this app is that you can keep your conversation private and anonymous. You don’t need an account or phone number to use the app; you don’t even have to share your name. The app does not ask for details such as gender or age.

One you are have signed up, you land on a page where you select areas of concern, be it anxiety, sleep, exam stress, work stress, relationships etc.

Based on these, Wysa creates personalised toolkits drawn from evidence-based self-help techniques from CBT, mindfulness, and life coaching. The app meets the UK NHS’ DCB 0129 Standard of Clinical Safety. 

Meet Wysa the Penguin

Wysa the Penguin aims to be the only stress, sleep, and mindfulness therapy chatbot you need.

Like a friend or a therapist, the chatbot suggests spiritual meditation, mindfulness audio, and other self-help tools. You can chat with the chatbot and talk to it like you would talk to a friend. We spoke to the Wysa chatbot, and found it useful. It could understand our concerns and offer solutions accordingly.

The adorable penguin can talk to you about your feelings, guide you through mindfulness meditation, or lead you through exercises that range from stretching to assisted cardio.

We found the interface soothing and calming. The chat interface even lets you share your mood with graphics such as sad/happy emojis. The user does not have to type a lot, thanks to the available automated replies. Wysa replies with a mix of texts and graphics.

Checking in, telling Wysa how you feel, and doing different exercises allow the app and you to actually gauge how you are doing. We pinged the Wysa for sleep issues and it gave us options of some guided audios for relaxation.

The content quality at Wysa is impressive - from sleep stories and guided meditations to breathing exercises and calming sessions. The app has content from other apps as well, such as YouTube, so you can browse further if something interests you. The free content and SoS bot can be used as many times you want.

Wysa runs on freemium models. Most of its initial tools such as chatbots, sleep stories, and exercises are free, but you need to buy the monthly subscription at Rs 399 to unlock advanced sessions and therapist.

At the end of a week, the app also provides a summary of your interaction in the app under the ‘Journal’ tab. 

Eventually as you use the app, Wysa builds your personalised tool kit with tools for better coping with stress, depression, anxiety, sleep issues, anger, and grief.

Providing a list of therapists or an initial chat with one before a user buys the premium pack could have helped us make a better and more informed decision.

The verdict

Overall, Wysa’s therapy-based techniques and conversations make for a very calming app. The friendly UI and penguin mascot make the chat appealing and approachable.

The company says 93 percent of people who talk to Wysa find it helpful. Many users have commented that they really enjoy offloading to Wysa, and that they can share the silliest of things and still get a sane reply.

If you are dealing with stress, anxiety, anger, and depression or coping with feelings that overwhelming you, talking to Wysa can help you relax and get yourself together. The app feels empathetic, helpful, and – most importantly - the penguin does not judge you. If nothing, just seeing the penguin can make you smile.

Edited by Teja Lele