Mental Health Taking Baby Steps In The Indian Market As India is moving towards modernization, the mental health start-ups have been a source of light in the dark times for India. According to a report, the global behavioural health market size is projected to surpass from an estimated USD 140.01 Billion in 2019 to USD 242 Billion by the end of 2027.

By Saptak Bardhan

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Richard Davidson said "The key to a healthy life is having a healthy mind". Healthy mind or Mental health has been a topic that has been ignored for a very long period of time in India. The idea or the existence of something called as "Mental Health" was laughed upon and mocked by the people. It is now that people are realizing the phenomenon called mental health and are seeking help from the experts in the field. People have started coming forward with their struggles with mental health and in the last 2-3 years, it has become a mainstream conversation. People are still oblivious to the more complex mental health problems even though the awareness of mental health has increased.

Mental Health has been referred to cognitive, behavioural, and emotional well-being. The absence of this well-being can affect how a person thinks, feels and behaves. World Health Organization (WHO) define mental health as "Mental Health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community." WHO stresses that mental health is more than just the absence of mental disorders or disabilities. Two thirds of mental health issues are starting during the ages of 14 - 25. At this stage, most teenagers struggle with symptoms of depression and anxiety at a sub-clinical level.

"We observed that with the pandemic surfacing, the need for intervention for emotional wellness was gradually gaining its importance, especially in the corporate set-up. Just in the first year of the pandemic, we could partner with over 100 corporates to take care of the employees' emotional wellness. The effect of the pandemic was so adverse, that people were expressing their wellbeing needs in one way or the other," says Richa Singh, CEO & Co-founder, YourDOST.

A UNICEF report on mental health problems in children and young people, especially in context of COVID-19, has noted that adolescents and young adults in the age group of 15-24 in India are reluctant to seek support for mental health issues. "The State of World's Children 2021' report of UNICEF has shown that India is showing a reverse trend. An average 83% of the youth in the surveyed 21 countries are in favour of seeking support for mental health problem. Findings from the survey also showed that around 14% of 15-24 year-olds in India reported often feeling depressed or having little interest in participating in activities. India's battle with mental health came at a time when the country was dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The extended lockdowns, the confinement, no social interactions with the stress of contracting the virus took a toll on many people. Massive layoffs, economic instability, inflation and being unable to find a hospital bed for a loved one were also reasons why the pandemic gave India a bitter reality check when it came to mental health. yourDOST did a survey to understand the status of mental health of Indians due to the pandemic and anxiety, anger and loneliness were the predominant emotions felt by the respondents. The cultural stigma coupled with accessibility and affordability has restricted counselling to reach a select few. However, with the changing situation and especially the impact of the pandemic has surfaced the need a lot more. People have been open to talking about their struggles as the cloud over this social taboo seems to be fading hard and fast. Bollywood stars and celebrities stepping forward with their stories of how they dealt with mental health issues also helped people to come forward with their own struggles.

Startups like Wysa, yourDOST, Innerhour, etc. have all made efforts so as to distance the stigma and include talking about mental health in the mainstream as well as being able to cure the mental health illness that people have gone through. The government has also gradually started to mandate covering mental health care under insurance as they tighten the regulation on the ground. Workplaces have become a hub to talk about one's mental stability as the corporate have been taking initiatives to look after their employees' mental health all through the pandemic period.

"We are seeing a huge surge of interest from enterprise clients: healthcare companies, providers, payers and insurers as well as employers. We are also working towards adding more languages, using voice support, web access etc. so that we are accessible to as many people as possible." says Jo Aggarwal, Founder and CEO, Wysa.

According to Singh, people have distanced themselves from their family in order for an economic benefit yet the emotional loss has gone unnoticed. She says people have turned to social media to fill the void of the absence of loved ones and now the frenzy of social media is at such a point where if an individual doesn't acquire the desired number of likes on their images or posts, it affects their mental well-being. Increased feelings of loneliness, helplessness, anxiety about the present and the future all throughout the pandemic has made people more and more insecure. These have only widened the gaps and increased mental health concerns significantly. India is known to be the suicide capital of the world and 1 in every 6th Indian suffers from some form of mental illness. A poor doctor to patient ratio has left 85% of patients that need access to mental health undertreated. Investors have been hesitant in investing in the mental health space due to the small number of qualified professionals in the sector and the stigma associated with mental health issues as funding had been a constraint. This trend however has been gradually changing as more people are investing in Mental Health start-ups. The startup ecosystem as well as the investors are aware of the fact that there is a need to tend and an opportunity to not only conquer a market but provide a solution to the problem that people have been facing for a very long time but have been oblivious to it or have not been allowed to come forward with it due to it being a social taboo. With this pandemic, the mindset shift has resulted in emotional wellness services becoming the need of the hour. As a result, more and more people, as well as organisations, are paying a lot of attention to emotional wellness.

Sandeep Murthy, Founder, Lightbox on investing in Innerhour, "With InnerHour, we saw an opportunity to take ownership of a users' mental health journey and mitigatie red flags early on. Using technology and data, they're developing an omni-channel mental health platform and delivering better outcomes faster."

As India is moving towards modernisation, the mental health start-ups have been a source of light in the dark times for India. The start-ups intend to reach more people who are in dire need for consultations on their mental health problems. According to a report, the global behavioural health market size is projected to surpass from an estimated USD 140.01 Billion in 2019 to USD 242 Billion by the end of 2027. India has already taken its first steps into this sector as more and more people leave behind the stigma related with mental health and take a step towards their holistic well-being.

Saptak Bardhan

Former Trainee Writer

Former Trainee Writer

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