How these college friends are helping people talk about their mental health struggles
When things get difficult, and nothing seems to go right, sometimes all we need is a shoulder to cry on and someone to listen to us. When Bani Singh, the co-founder of NowandMe, saw her mother struggling to find an outlet for her feelings, she realised she had to do something about it.
“My mother was having a hard time, and she used to say that there should be a place where people can talk about their failures as well because all you see everywhere is how people succeed and the great things they’ve done. She used to search for such forums online, and just wanted to know that it’s okay, things will be alright, and that she’s not alone.”
Millions across India suffer from mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar, but there is very little awareness around these glaring issues. For decades, people have brushed the topic under the carpet and hesitated to consult mental health professionals due to the fear of being judged.
While facing her difficulties, Bani's mother came up with the idea of building a community-based platform for people to discuss their thoughts. Taking their mother's idea forward and to encourage conversations around mental health, 21-year-old college friends Bani Singh and Drishti Gupta decided to launch a website - NowandMe - in 2018. The platform provides a space where people can discuss their struggles anonymously and seek empathy - something they may not have been able to do with people in their real-life circles, because of the fear of judgement.
Speaking with HerStory, Bani and Drishti tell us how the platform works, and talk about how mental health can be better dealt within India.
Bani and Drishti describe NowandMe as a community of “everyday people”, who can discuss shared experiences across a wide array of categories across mental illnesses, physical ailments, and personal and social issues. The most common issues that people discuss on the website pertain to relationships, loneliness, and work dissatisfaction.
“We are trying to provide a platform where people can talk about anything that’s bothering them so that they feel lighter. However, all conversations between NowandMe members are solely based on their personal experiences and should not be considered as medical advice or therapy. It is neither a crisis helpline, nor a substitute for professional help. The purpose of this forum is to create a supportive space where everyone can interact in a kind, compassionate manner,” says Drishti.
The motivation behind the website, they say, is the belief that change is possible, and needs to start somewhere. NowandMe was created to further continuous awareness programmes, and make it known that everyone goes through tough times.
Emphasising on the simple motive to help people out when in need, the co-founders recall one active community member who used to post about their personal issues and problems frequently. “This continued for about two months, after which we received an email from them requesting for our list of resources for affordable or free professional help. This member continues to be an integral part of the community even after having access to those resources,” they say.
Launched in October 2018, NowandMe sees over 10,000 unique visits every week, and has around 1,000 registered users on its website, mostly between the ages of 25 and 35. The forums collectively have more than 4,000 posts shared by the users. NowandMe currently does not record any revenue, and operates as a free platform.
The co-founders say that while they want to keep the platform free, they also want to provide users with access to the right kind of knowledge and professionals. For this, they will be compiling different means of recourse available, such as online and offline therapy, 24/7 helplines and tele-counselling services, and workshops.
The website also has a bank of videos that Bani and Drishti create, which tell stories of regular people. They make these videos to get the word out about issues that many go through but don’t talk about.
The duo also conducts offline events like panel discussions with mental health professionals, which they first introduced at their college to an audience of over 300. The event also saw social media influencers sharing their personal experiences.
Since then, Bani and Drishti have initiated other safe space events for people to come and talk about their struggles, including one specifically for women dealing with postpartum depression. They also make sure that there is always a mental health professional present at NowandMe’s events.
Route to entrepreneurship
Bani and Drishti met at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, while they pursued undergraduate degrees in Statistics. When the two were in their final year, they started working on NowandMe, and decided to take it up full time after they graduated earlier this year.
Bani says the journey of launching NowandMe is personal, because of what her mother went through. She felt that there was a need for a space where people could share their struggles and find comfort in knowing that failure is an option too.
As students with minimal experience in starting up, the duo has faced a few challenges. They say that their biggest struggle has been the fact that they were absolutely clueless, to begin with.
“The energy, enthusiasm, skillset, and willpower were all there, but a lot of learning was required along the way. Neither of us knew how to code the website, and did not hold a psychology degree. We also realised the importance of mentorship, so that we could have someone showing the way, or steering us in the right direction,” they recall.
Eventually, they learnt how to build the website and get things going via the internet, and found mentors who gave them valuable insights.
The future of mental health in India
Bani and Drishti say that despite mental health issues affecting so many people across the country, there continues to be a lack of effort towards awareness by the government.
“The efforts made by private firms and non-profit organisations are noteworthy, but the government should also focus on allocating funds towards research in the field of psychology and making mental healthcare more affordable and accessible.”
Also, they believe friends and family must treat the urgency of a mental health issue, as they would for a physical health issue.
“They need to understand that healing can take time and that they have to be supportive throughout the journey. Something as simple as genuinely hearing them out can go a long way in making them feel loved and cared for.”
And while hearing our favourite Bollywood superstars talk about their struggles helps spread awareness, they say that hearing our own peers talk about their struggles helps us know that we are not alone.
Encouraging people to speak up is the stepping stone to widespread action surrounding mental health.
(Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan)