As COVID-19 increases anxiety, these 5 women-led startups are ensuring mental healthcare is accessible to all

These startups and initiatives aim to provide quality mental healthcare, especially when people are facing uncertainty and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As COVID-19 increases anxiety, these 5 women-led startups are ensuring mental healthcare is accessible to all

Thursday June 18, 2020,

5 min Read

Several decades of research has proven and re-proven that mental health and well-being are extremely important factors for human health. However, stigma and social taboos make it difficult for people to seek help for mental wellbeing. 

Mental health care facilities for many are unavailable or inaccessible due to factors such as affordability, lack of awareness, or low availability of mental health professionals. 

According to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, India needs at least 13,000 more psychiatrists to achieve an ideal psychologist to population ratio of 1: 8,000 to 10,000.

In order to make mental healthcare available to all and help people take care of their wellbeing, many startups and social initiatives have taken up the cause. Now more than ever, we need professionals who can help others deal with anxieties, while they are facing a global pandemic like COVID-19.

Here are some women who have forayed into this space to help people address their mental health issues and provide the needed infrastructure and resources to help them.

Nithya J Rao, Heart It Out

Heart It Out

Nithya J Rao, Co-founder of Heart It Out

Nithya J Rao and Taha Zaidi co-founded Bengaluru-based mental health startup Heart It Out in 2017. Her concern about the lack of psychologists in India led her to start up in this space. Nithya has a master’s degree in rehabilitation psychology from the Richmond Fellowship Society.

Heart It Out is a data-driven platform that trains psychologists for 16 weeks before meeting a patient and offers therapy to address various issues such as depression and anxiety, family and relationships, work life, career guidance, sexuality, better lifestyle, and bipolar disorder, among others. 

With six psychologists on board, therapy services are priced at Rs 1,000 for individuals, Rs 1,500 for couples, Rs 2,000 for families. 

During the coronavirus-induced lockdown, the startup launched a free two-month-long helpline called Briefly with a network of 27 volunteer-psychologists and helped more than 600 individuals deal with trauma and anxiety.

Pinky Daga, Thriive Art & Soul

Thriive founder Pinky Daga, mental health

Pinky Daga, founder and CEO of Thriive Art & Soul

A Mumbai-based digital platform for wellness and various therapies, Thriive Art & Soul was founded by Pinky Daga in 2017. Thriive has more than 500 certified therapists on board to offer varied forms of therapy including Mark Karlsson from Iceland, who is the founder and director of The Merlin Trinity Healing System; Ilona Selke from USA, a best-selling author and an accomplished life coach and manifestation master; Smita Jayakar, a well-known actress and an equally renowned healer; Sunaina Rekhi, a yoga practitioner; and many others.

The platform helps connect people to the right kind of therapist based on historical data about each therapist and what they are good at. It has also forayed into wellness travel and has a wellness centre in Pyramid Valley International in Bengaluru. The website also offers e-learning courses on various topics on wellness.

Apoorvi Bharatram, The Happiness Project

Apoorvi Bharatram

Apoorvi Bharatram, founder of the Happiness Project

Growing up, Apoorvi Bharatram saw her sister battle with clinical depression. The experience made her sensitive towards mental health, and she wanted to ensure everyone had access to good mental health care. 

Understanding the dearth of mental health professionals and lack of awareness on mental health, especially in government schools, the 17-year-old started the Happiness Project.  

It follows a simple three-step model to help gauge the happiness quotient of students in government schools and uses the same data to train the teachers to become ‘Para-Counsellors’. The project partners with NGOs and individuals to equip teachers and administrators with the tools required to address mental health issues.

Bani Singh and Drishti Gupta, NowandMe

NowandMe founders, mental healthcare

NowandMe founders - Bani Singh and Drishti Gupta

In 2018, college friends Bani Singh and Drishti Gupta launched NowandMe, a community-based website, to help people talk about their mental health struggles and find comfort in knowing they are not alone.

Bani's mother came up with the idea of building a community-based platform for people to discuss their thoughts. Taking her mother's idea forward to encourage conversations around mental health, Bani and Drishti decided to launch the website - NowandMe. The platform provides a space for people to discuss their struggles anonymously and seek empathy - something they may not be able to do with people in their real-life circles, because of the fear of judgement.

Prakriti Poddar, Poddar Foundation

Prakriti Poddar

Prakriti Poddar, head of Poddar Foundation

Prakriti Poddar runs the Poddar Foundation, which creates preventive mental health programmes. It also runs Silence Todo, a campaign to remove the stigma surrounding mental health, in rural areas of Maharashtra.

After working for several years in various roles, Prakriti decided to take mental health awareness to the grassroots and shift the focus to the under-privileged, whose “mental health was long neglected”. She took over the reins of the Poddar Foundation as the managing trustee in 2014. The foundation was part of her family's Poddar Group.

The foundation is currently working with over 60,000 people in Maharashtra and has created a teaching and training manual for social health workers, teachers, students, anganwadis, and medical officers.

Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan