Women led mental health startups providing timely help during COVID-19

The pandemic is as challenging to our mental wellbeing as it is to our physical health. While the pandemic continues to toss more challenges around, being resilient and thinking positively remains important, and these startups are on hand to provide just the right intervention.
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Mental health issues have largely remained a misunderstood topic in India, rooted in stigma, taboo, and myths.

However, the pandemic has accelerated the urgency for mental health awareness, with many organisations and celebrities bringing it to the mainstream. As per a report by SingleCare Team, mental health and substance use disorders affect 13 percent of the world’s population. 

Here are a few women entrepreneurs who, staying resilient amid the tough times, have launched their own mental health ventures to help others. 

(From L to R clockwise) Kamakshi Khurana and Vishala Khurana, Co-founders of The Sound Space; Leanne Rose Pais, Founder of The Unopened Box; Garima Juneja, Founder of Lightroom Therapy; Aashna Parikh, Aritra Mallik, Hrishita Shah, and Nysa Agarwal, Co-founders of Here to Help; Shumita Kakkar, Founder of United We Care.

Lightroom by Garima Juneja

This Chandigarh-based startup was launched in 2020, during the pandemic, and has been helping people with mental issues ever since. 

Ex-banker Garima Juneja quit her full time job in late 2006 when she became a mother, and pursued an MA in Psychology. She trained in various therapy courses including Gottman Couple Therapy, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, and Hypnotherapy.

This mother of two spent almost six years in training and counselling as a psychologist. 

“During the first wave of the pandemic, a few people contacted me for online counselling, which worked out very well. Before this, we rarely imparted therapy sessions on phone or zoom calls, but the online sessions turned out to be such a successful therapeutic experience for the client/patient. After this, I wanted to reach out to as many people as possible, and the first step towards it was to make a website for Lightroom. Since then, there has been no looking back,” says Garima.

The name of her startup ‘Lightroom’ is used as a metaphor for bringing light into her patient’s lives. 

The Sound Space, Kamakshi Khurana and Vishala Khurana

Sound Space, established in 2010, is a labour of love for sisters Kamakshi Khurana and Vishala Khurana. Based in Mumbai, this startup focuses on healing through music. 

“Music has been found to have a major impact on mental health and wellbeing. Music therapy works under the basic premise that music can benefit mood regulation, self-expression, self-esteem, anxiety, interpersonal effectiveness, treatment motivation, positive coping skills, and more. There’s no one-size-fits-all treatment when it comes to healing through music,” says Vishala. 

Vishala and Kamakshi are trained in psychology and Indian classical music. They were introduced to music early on as their father is a trained musician and sound healer. 

The duo creates specialised sessions for children and adults that can help them focus, de-stress, heal, recover, achieve inner balance, or to simply learn music.

“Music can be therapeutic to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals. It also provides avenues for communication that can be helpful to those who find it difficult to express themselves in words. Through working with children and adults with special needs, we have found that it can really change lives. Also, one does not have to be ‘ill’ to want to experience music therapy,” says Kamakshi.

Their therapy techniques are inspired by Raga-Chikitsa which is based around the idea that every raga affects the body and mind. 

The Unopened Box by Leanne Rose Pais

Leanne comes from a family of doctors. She realised her calling to be a psychologist when she was just 13 years old. 

This trauma care specialist has done extensive training in art therapy and inner child work. She has been practicing for over six and half years. 

Amidst the pandemic, she took her practice online and launched The Unopened Box on Instagram. She regularly shares tips to maintain mental health and offers coping mechanisms and guidance through the social platform. 

This Bengaluru-based startup saw increased interest amidst the pandemic. “There was a sudden inflow of clients after the pandemic started because many were unsure of how to deal with uncertainty, how to be by themselves, how to set boundaries with work and family - and find a balance that made them feel secure,” she says.

As India’s youngest RISE-UP qualified professional supervisor, she shares that she works with clients across age groups. 

“Millennials form a chunk of my clientele. We are getting a lot of younger clients now, which is great as families are more aware of the need for therapy early on. I think the reason why millennials ask for intervention so much is that they want to break cycles."

United We Care by Shumita Kakkar

Shumita Kakkar, an MBA graduate, was at the peak of her career in 2019. After over a decade of working in the corporate world in multinational telecom companies like Vodafone and Samsung, her entrepreneurial venture, 6T Seconds, was highly successful. 

However, her life took a sharp turn when she found out about her friends going through a difficult time in their life. “I saw them break down to a level that they contemplated taking their own lives,” she recalls.

Later that day, she went home and searched the internet for a platform that helped women with their mental health issues and provide legal support but couldn’t find anything. That is when she jumped to action and founded United For Her (now rebranded as United We Care) in November, 2019.

Their app was launched in May 2020, and has already onboarded more than 190 psychologists and experts. 

Here to Help by Aashna Parikh, Aritra Mallik, Hrishita Shah, and Nysa Agarwal

From left to right: Nysa Agarwal, Hrishita Shah, Aashna Parekh and Aritra Mallik

Aashna Parikh, Artira Mallik, Hrishita Shah, and Nysa Agarwal, 14-year-old students of Dhirubhai Ambani International School, Mumbai, strongly believe that mental health wellbeing is as important as physical well-being. 

Their venture, Here to Help, is an online mental health platform for young people.  

“We are very particular about the selection of therapists on the platform as they have a significant impact on people’s wellbeing. All therapists need to have a master’s degree in psychology and a license,” Aritra says.

The startup provides packages like unlimited text therapy for a week priced at Rs 2,999 and unlimited text therapy for a week plus two audio calls for Rs 3,499 (additional video calls for Rs 899 for 45 minutes). 

Edited by Anju Narayanan

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