Education

Help is a click away

Easy access Flexible and anonymous.   | Photo Credit: RichVintage

When Pallavi joined her BBA course, she found it difficult to fit in with her peer group — she wanted to focus on her studies, but her peers and seniors were into partying. As she grew more isolated from their lifestyle, she became the subject of bullying. She began to keep to the hostel and avoided attending classes or going out. Her sleep was disturbed and her appetite, lost. Feelings of fear, loneliness, and anxiety left her on the verge of dropping out. As a last ditch effort, she searched online for ways to deal with bullying. There she stumbled across counselling as an option.

Two years and eight sessions later, Pallavi is back to her old self. Therapy has helped her build up her confidence and break the cycle of negative thoughts that she had. She is doing well in her studies and is practising self-care.

Many of us know we want help — someone to talk to, who can support us in managing our anxiety or when we are feeling down; but how do you know what kind of support you need, and where to look for it?

For students like Pallavi, online counselling is a boon. Gone are the days when the only way to meet a therapist is by going to a hospital or clinic. Now, help is just a few clicks away. The benefit of anonymity is combined with the convenience of scheduling appointments whenever one likes. There is flexibility in the mode of counselling: texting, phone calls, or video chats. Given the vast array of options, there is also a greater possibility of finding a therapist who fits your budget.

Home-grown organisations that cater to this need are steadily on the rise. They cover the entire spectrum of support: awareness, online communities, self-help, and platforms to connect with professionals.

Bridging the gap

The idea for one such organisation, ePsyclinic (www.epsyclinic.com), took shape when Founder and CEO, Shipra Dawar, was studying abroad. Sessions with the university counsellor had helped her manage homesickness and stress. That is when she realised how counselling could make a difference in someone’s life. But, when she returned to India, she found the supporting infrastructure to seek help was inadequate.

ePsyclinic offers online consultations with its team of in-house psychologists. The initial consultations are free for students. Last year, the organisation launched “the world’s first structured therapy” called iWill. According to Shipra, iWill “is completely standardised and goal-based”. It is a paid service that is available to everyone, thought it does offer discounts for students. Since its launch last year, the app has had over 15,000 users benefiting from its programmes. “We don’t want to stigmatise (seeking help for) mental health. We say that it is more convenient, and more available, and more affordable”.

Helping people overcome this stigma is one of the goals of YourDOST (www.yourdost.com). In an email interview, Co-founder and CEO, Richa Singh describes it as “a platform where people can anonymously seek support”. YourDOST connects users to over 900 experts — psychologists, counsellors, career coaches and relationship advisors. “Counselling is about forming a bond with the person. Unless you do that, (the person) will never open up to you, especially on matters pertaining to relationship, sexual preferences, parental pressure etc. This is where one-sided anonymity helps (the user is anonymous but the expert is not). A person without any fear can confidentially talk to an expert to develop that trust… Once this is done, half the battle is won...” YourDOST runs over 2000 sessions every day, with over 10 lakh individuals having sought help on the platform.

The importance of a good therapist in counselling can’t be underscored enough. Shweta Srinivasan and Mani Kumar recognised this when they started The Mind Clan (www.themindclan.com). Currently catering to residents of Mumbai, they want to “flip the way psychologists are listed”.

“Counselling is not like going to a doctor”, says Shweta. “It’s a lot more personal, a lot more intimate of a journey. We felt it’s important for the client to know the person behind the professional also, within the boundaries of a counselling relationship, to help clients find their best fit.” The professionals listed on The Mind Clan are vetted by the team to ensure they align to their core values, like providing a safe, non-judgemental space, being LGBTQIA-affirmative, etc.

Self-help

For those who wish to try self-help techniques, chatbots, such as Wysa, are an option. For those interested in therapy, Calm India (www.calmindia.com) has a solution: computerised cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Says Nikitha Shiv, CEO, “The purpose is not to automate the one-on-one counselling process. What we wanted to do was teach people how to get control over their thoughts and minds, instead of the other way around. Instead of letting your thoughts control what you say, we wanted to help people understand why they do what they do, why they react the way they do.”

A four-week audio-and-video course costs ₹999. Currently, the programme has over 5,000 active users. For those users who require more intense support, the programme redirects them to other avenues, depending on their needs.

All the above organisations have prominent social media presence, on Facebook and Instagram. These have become important platforms for talking about mental health, and allowing people to express themselves through words, photos, memes and gifs.

The You’re Wonderful Project (YWP) is run completely by volunteers online. It is dedicated to promoting awareness, and it offers free peer counselling, through student volunteers in campuses across Delhi, and on social media, through trained counsellors. Cases where an individual needs more immediate support are forwarded to professionals for more structured counselling. YWP also recently launched the SPEAK campaign to promote emotional acceptance and knowledge in Delhi schools.

The growth in online platforms is a sign of changing times. Help is now more accessible than ever before, but we need to do our part too. Stigmatising mental health is only going to set us back. Showing those around you — and yourself — kindness and acceptance will replace the guilt and fear associated with getting help, with a sense of hope.

The writer is a psychologist and management consultant. krithvis@gmail.com


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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 7:37:56 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/help-is-a-click-away/article27947838.ece

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