These two graduates are enabling people to talk about mental health through their online platform
Right from her childhood, Dhaaranee Karunakaran had been constantly subjected to mockery, humiliation and being shamed about her body weight. The 19-year-old grew up listening to comments like – ‘Have you seen yourself in the mirror?’, ‘How much will you eat?’, and ‘Don’t you think you look way too inflated?’
Influenced by the beauty standards defined by social media, television shows and magazine covers, people around Dhaaranee, including her family and friends, began criticising her. This resulted in her losing her self-confidence and experiencing social anxiety.
19-year-old Dhaaranee.Karunakaran | Image credits: Now & Me
“Being on the heavier side since childhood, I was always on the receiving end of unpleasant remarks and denunciation. It got to a point where I was not able to take it anymore. That was when I decided to take control of things, confront my emotions, and practice self-love. From there on, there was looking back,” Dhaaranee tells SocialStory.
Dhaaranee, who is presently pursuing a degree from Savitha School of Law in Chennai, recently came across the global platform ‘Now & Me’ and resolved to share her experiences on it. Initiated by Drishti Gupta and Bani Singh, the online podium provides a safe space for people to open up and talk about their mental health, feelings, thoughts, as well as express their emotions.
“I got to know about Now & Me through a post on Instagram and was convinced about the idea almost immediately. I signed up on the platform and put out a video sharing my story about how I overcame the spite associated with body shaming. Not only did it help me feel lighter and unburdened, but I could also encourage other people to surmount it,” says Dhaaranee.
Bani Singh and Drishti Gupta | Image credits: Now & Me.
Kicked off in July 2019, Now & Me is attempting to push forward and destigmatise conversations around mental health. Considering that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is sprouting fear, uncertainty, and stress in the community, Drishti and Bani started the “Impact 10k lives” programme to encourage 10,000 people to register on the platform in a span of 10 days. Though they were able to rope in only 4,490 people, the duo remains hopeful.
Both Drishti Gupta and Bani Singh were classmates while pursuing their Bachelor’s in Statistics from Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi. It was during their final semester that they came up with the idea of starting Now & Me. After Bani first presented her notion about establishing the platform, Drishti too came on board after a few days of brainstorming and researching.
“A lot of people are conscious about sharing their true feelings on social media due to the apprehension of being judged. Hence, they simply tend to paint a rosy picture of their lives. Our intention behind setting up Now & Me was to break this barrier and give an opportunity to everyone to have conversations around mental health issues, and seek help within the network,” explains Drishti.
The co-founders of Now & Me.
After interacting with several students and friends in their network, Drishti and Bani began pooling in efforts to design and build the web platform, with assistance from Nitesh Kumar Niranjan, a qualified software developer.
“We put in our own funds and personal savings in the initial stage, however, we are currently looking to raise more money from investors,” adds Drishti.
The basic version of the Now & Me platform was taken live in 2019, however, the team continued enhancing its features and design based on user feedback. Drishti and Bani have been promoting their endeavour through talking circles, network therapies, and other offline events. The most recent ones being a programme titled 'Stress Relief' at IIT-Delhi, and a public presentation called 'Create Don't Hate' at CityWalk Mall, Delhi in association with JustDelhiing.
Enabling people to discuss their mental health
Now & Me is open to everyone and is free of cost. To be a part of it, one can simply register on the platform.
Once the registration is complete, it allows the individual to set a profile and share posts or videos about their mental health. In case a user does not want their identity to be revealed, there is an option for them to stay anonymous.
“Since Now & Me is a digital space where a lot of personal experiences are shared, it was important for us to ensure that the content is not misused. Hence, we are working to moderate the information and eliminate hateful comments. Besides, there is an option for users to flag despicable statements. All they have to do is click on the ‘report’ icon at the end of the post,” explains Drishti.
A screenshot of the Now & Me web platform.
Owing to the social alienation, anxiety, and the pessimistic atmosphere that the corona virus crisis has created, an increasing number of people are making their voices heard on the site. In the last four months, the platform has seen a 60 percent increase in engagement with several individuals sparking meaningful and sensitive conversations on this kinder form of the internet.
People have spoken about a wide range of social and mental issues– from toxic relationships, domestic violence, and mental trauma, to career disappointments and so on. That is not all. Many Samaritans around the world are coming forward to help one another heal and overcome their troubles by expressing similar encounters and provide suggestions.
The tags created on the platform.
“We have received a tremendous amount of positive reactions from the users. There are many success stories of people overcoming hurdles in their personal and professional life, triumphing over suicidal thoughts, resolving emotional conflicts and outliving social stigma. All this is serving as a source of reassurance for us to continue in the same direction to expand the digital community,” explains Drishti.
The now 21-year-olds are planning to launch a few more features on Now & Me in the near future. They are working on making resources and reading material on mental health available to the users, and incorporate AI tools for better content moderation.