Mental health start-ups capitalise on pandemic-led demand for services

Even telemedicine, that has been the preferred options for patients suffering from non-critical ailments during the pandemic, has also made inroads to solve mental health issues as well
Globally, and especially in India, mental health has always had a taboo attached to it. However, the number of people dealing with stress, depression and anxiety, both due to work and health issues, has increased manifold since the lockdown.

Start-ups catering to this segment are capitalising on this opportunity and discovering new revenue streams by adopting a digital-first approach and establishing ties with corporate clients to roll out customised solutions.

Take for example, the case of Mindhouse, a mental wellness start-up based in Gurugram. In March this year when the enterprise up had to temporarily shut down all its three offline premises in the city those were opened just four months ago, the company was quick enough to realize that the pandemic will affect its core business model. Thus, it started recording yoga and meditation sessions for an online launch.

"Our app was just for the exclusive use of our studio members and it was mainly for booking slots. We had completely refurbished the interface in less than two weeks to host live classes and have curated content," said Pooja Khanna, co-founder, Mindhouse. "The app also introduced 'talk to the trainer' feature to seek suggestions on the type of courses that will address the user's problems as we realised there a lot of beginners who holdback due to self-doubts and inhibitions."

Mindhouse which has hit 100,000 downloads since March, aims to offer modern meditation-based mental health solutions catering preventive wellness services. The app has adopted a goal-based approach of helping the user in relieving stress and anxiety, improve focus, better sleep or even develop more patience. "This factor has helped us to unlock a wider market and win over 600 corporate partnerships in four months during the lockdown," said Khanna who founded the company along with Zomato's co-founder Pankaj Chaddah in December last year.

Even telemedicine, that has been the preferred options for patients suffering from non-critical ailments during the pandemic, has also made inroads to solve mental health issues as well. Bengaluru-based digital mental-health platform YourDost for example is offering chat, voice and video-based solutions that is instantly available 24x7 through the help of over 900 psychologists and life coaches. The start-ups' volume of daily counselling sessions has more than doubled since the lockdown and even hit as high as 2,000 sessions per day, said co-founder Puneet Manuja. 

"The lockdown and repercussions have made people anxious like they were waiting for exam results or performance appraisals. The worst part is they don't know when the normalcy would return," Manuja added.

The company claims offering help in 20 different local languages which has helped it expand presence in non-metros that drive around 40 per cent of its traffic at the moment. It has also tied up with around 50-60 corporate to offer its services, in the last five months. "The option of local languages has enabled us to deliver solutions to even blue collar workers or delivery partners of some companies," Manuja added.

The lockdown has also made chatbot-based applications strengthen their foothold in the space as most users prefer non-human interactions. One such app is Wysa. It is artificial intelligence (AI)-powered chatbot uses evidence-based cognitive behavioural techniques (CBT), meditation, breathing and motivational interviewing to help the user build emotional resilience skills, and thus aids in self-help.

The AI is built putting in place stringent clinical protocols and the responses are contributed by clinical psychologists and depression symptoms could be detected with 90 per cent accuracy. The chatbot also auto escalates the issue to local helpline numbers to address emergencies. The company has 2.1 million installs globally and said it has been adding 3,000-4,000 new signups since the lockdown.

While business to consumer (B2C) remains Wysa's mainstream user base, the company has also tied up with around 12 corporate brands, insurance firms and hospitals to offer customised solutions since foraying into the business to business (B2B) space last year. Earlier this month, Wysa along with the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital rolled out a special app in the US that offers nine exercises for coping with Covid-related anxiety. In May, it joined hands with US-based insurance firm Aetna to address the mental health needs of its customers.

According to a United Nations report, depression affects 264 million people in the world, while around half of all mental health conditions start by age 14. There is one suicide every 40 seconds and 75 per cent of the cases occur in mid and low-income countries. The loneliness due to the lockdown, work-related stress and uncertainty attached to the pandemic has, in fact, pushed the demand for these start-ups. 

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