According to the World Health Organization, India is one of the most depressed countries in the world with a whopping 36% of its people likely to suffer from major depression at any time. It is estimated that 46% of working population in India is depressed, anxious or suffering from stress-related problems. However, many of us know little about mental health. We often don’t spot the signs that a friend, or we ourselves are struggling with.
After going through similar struggles in this space herself, Shipra Dawar, a management graduate, decided to do something about it. “I suffered from homesickness related depression when I was studying in Australia. My grades started to fall, and a professor suggested I see a counsellor, and that shocked me because of the stigma attached to the problem. But counselling helped me to get back on track, and my grades improved as well.”
But it was when a friend who was going through a bitter divorce struggled to find a therapist who fits into his busy schedule that Dawar connected the dots. To improve access to psychological services, Dawar brought therapy to the ultimate comfort-zone by launching ePsyclinic — an online counselling services — in 2015. Online counselling is just as effective as face to face, claims Dawar. “Anybody going through a tough time can easily find us online, and get help from our therapists, who are trained in online therapy.”
The online platform counsels over 400 patients daily, and have over 70 mental health professionals, while another 100 experts are currently being trained. “We have a basic free app ePsyClinic Lite that helps mental health patients through chat, videos, or calls,” she says. It is working on an advanced app to make it easier for patients to find the best available care by matching patients to the best treatments and experts.
Just as mental illness is a common phenomenon, so is stigma. Many put off seeing a mental health professional, says Dawar, for fear that they will be looked down on if they venture anywhere near a psychiatric unit.
Shipra Dawar, founder of ePsyclinic. (Photo courtesy ePsyclinic)
A new study by The Lancet found that despite the rising mental health disorders in India, only about one in 10 people receive evidence-based treatment. Also, access to mental health services in India continues to be a major challenge as up to 40% of patients travel more than 10 km to access services.
Put simply, mental illness is India’s ticking bomb. Patients range from students suffering from exam-related stress, ADHD and conduct disorder to adults having anxiety disorders, marital issues and addictions, says Dawar. India has only 443 public mental hospitals, but six states, mainly in the northern and eastern regions with a combined population of 56 million people, are without a single mental hospital. Dawar says her goal is to fill gaps in mental health services.
“What is worse is the lack of awareness for these issues. Most people in India brush aside symptoms of depression as just a phase… and these people are more prone to recurring mental health issues and living a low quality of life.” Lack of awareness and services not just delays help but recovery as well, she says.
The startup is growing at a steady pace. From three consultations a month when it started two years ago to 400 a day now. “Our focus is growth with revenues, hence we are keeping our unit economics intact and working further to improve it.”
“We are not self-sustaining yet but very close to achieving it,” Dawar says, adding that she’s looking for funds for expanding services.
The interest in improving access to behavioral health therapists combined with the reality that many people just don’t feel comfortable seeing a therapist in person makes it all the important to give a more personalized approach to behavioral healthcare, says Dawar. “Response to our service has been good. We have delivered positive outcomes to more than 90% of people who took therapy from us. We are now focussed at improving upon these further, as we are now working on an advanced app, to be launched this summer, to ensure superior mental health for people.”