How Startups are Using Technology to Spread Awareness About Emotional Wellness

Arindam Sen, Founder, ZyegoSonal Shah (name changed) is a 20 year old student at a premier engineering college at in Delhi. She hails from Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, a city she left two years back to pursue her dream of studying at a premier institution in the national capital and to experience the freedom that comes along. New in a big city, intense peer pressure, money issues to match living standards of her friends, and the pressure of academic performance without a support system, led her to alcohol. What started off as a casual Friday evening hangout with friends, turned into a daily engagement to drink and ‘forget it all’ in the evening. She could not talk about it to her parents, other immediate family members, not even old friends at Lucknow as they could never relate how a girl like her could take to drinking. She felt lonely, isolated and desperate as the days went by. In time, she consulted few doctors & psychologists in person but was always hesitant in opening up her problems. But down the months, thanks to social media, she found out few innovative companies dealing with emotional issues & can help them. She consulted few psychologists anonymously and started taking counselling sessions via the chat mode. It was as convenient as she could talk to her therapist from anywhere; from her PG accommodation, on a metro ride, at a coffee outlet and even when she was out of Delhi on project trips. It gave her the flexibility to access a therapist without going anywhere, fixing appointments or revealing her true identity. She had a support system which was available to her, wherever and whenever she needed it, which gave her a great sense of relief and direction.

Chatting with a psychologist gave her insights into her own personality and made her introspect about many issues in her life, both personal and professional. She figured in time that over the years, quite a few aspects of her personality and behaviour had changed, as deep down many issues had been ignored and unresolved, hoping time would provide some solution or respite. The therapist encouraged her to understand her situation in its proper perspective, be attentive to her thoughts, feelings and behaviour. She learned to accept her feelings for what they were and not deny them or ignore them. Over time, she began feeling comfortable with them and accepting them as part of of herself and slowly working around the issues and started feeling better. This in turn brought down her stress levels and helped maintain balance at work and with her social circle. Aditi had been suggested by her friends at college to meet the college
counsellor a while back, but she felt awkward meeting the person in broad daylight and also her timings and those of the counsellor did not match. There are many students like Aditi who study in thousands of colleges and universities across India and suffer from stress and lack of emotional well being in their professional and personal lives. The scale and nature of the issue is such that the existing healthcare infrastructure is woefully inadequate to meet the requirements. Also in most cases, people approach a mental health professional when the situation has peaked and the person is in serious distress and unable to cope and day to day functions & activities are hampered.

Due to the stigma attached with mental issues, nearly 80 percent hardly receive any form of formal treatment for a long time. The health infrastructure in fact does not prioritize them in any way as it is not a very economically paying proposition for the service provider

As per a recent countrywide study by National Institute of Mental Health & Neurosciences (NIMHANS, Bangalore) at least 13.7 percent of India's general population has been projected to be suffering from a variety of mental illnesses and 10.6 percent of this requires immediate intervention. This proportion of the population currently suffering from a mental disorder requires an active intervention. This estimate includes a range of mental disorders F10 - F49 categories within the Summary 15 NMHS 2016 International Classification of Disorders (ICD -10). Translated to real numbers (based on weight age for different levels), nearly 150 million Indians are in need of active interventions. The report further says that ‘As per Global Burden of Disease report, mental disorders ac¬count for 13 percent of total DALYs lost for Years Lived with Disability (YLD) with depression being the leading cause’. The data reveals that the prevalence of mental morbidity was found to be quite high in metros with higher prevalence of schizophrenia, mood disorders and neurotic or stress-related disorders. These can be attributed to lifestyles, stress, and breakdown of support systems and economic challenges of surviving in a high cost urban environment. It was quite shocking to note that despite such large numbers, the health infrastructure hardly caters to this section and treatment gaps exist of over sixty percent exist for most mental health disorders. Due to the sigma attached with mental issues nearly 80 percent hardly receive any form of formal treatment for a long time. The health infrastructure in fact does not prioritize them in any way, as it is not a very economically paying proposition for the service provider. Severe paucity of specialists adds to the malaise and it’s become a vicious cycle of poor implementation of various government policies and programs under the national mental health programme.

It is here that the startups can pitch in using technology and reach to spread awareness of the need for emotional wellness as an integral part of overall wellness for an individual. The scale of the problem requires nationwide reach, in various regional languages with instant access and regular updation. The need of the hour is to evolve a robust and sustainable preventive mental health program which will acquaint people with tools to manage emotional wellness in their day to day lives, their careers, social spaces and personal lives. It is a mammoth task and requires people from all part of the country to be connected and interact with each other via the various platforms to address this severe issue facing the country. Startups have a very important role here in disrupting this space using new ideas to connect people, collect data, link users to service providers and help spread word to areas which are otherwise not accessible and linking qualified personnel to people in need of immediate help for their emotional needs. The anonymity of this entire process is a further benefit that helps in the user overcome the stigma attached to mental and psychological issues that have long plagued our population and pose a serious threat in the years to come.