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Building An Online Support System For Those In Distress

"A friend had committed suicide in IIT Guhawati hostel. The reason was anxiety. She anticipated she’ll not get a good job during the on-campus placement," says Richa Singh, co-founder of Bangalore-based mental wellness startup YourDOST.

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The incident had a huge impact on Singh while she was doing her graduation in interaction design at IIT Guhawati in 2008.
 
As she delved deep into the incident, she found out that the college had a counselling cell but hardly 4-5 students would visit it because of social stigma attached related to mental support systems.
 
This got her interested in mental wellbeing and counselling. Along with a full-time job at social media analytics firm Webfluenz, she started her own amateur research by visiting psychologists and counsellors to understand how they function and the problems they can assist with.
 
The research culminated into a blog YourDOST in January 2013 where she would share personal stories of psychologists and the people she met who had gone through a rough patch.
 
"The blog started gaining traction. A lot of people would write to me about how these articles help them or how they can relate to it," says Singh.
 
In fact, she did several surveys with working professionals and students, asking if they would go to a counsellor to seek professional help. A large percentage of people agreed they felt didn’t know whom to talk to and didn’t want to visit a counsellor due to social taboos.
 
Depression
The results were reaffirmed by some national reports. According to a 2011 report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), one out of seven people in India was suffering from depression in 2015.
 
A 2015 survey by Assocham shows the rate of emotional problems such as anxiety and depression has increased by 45-50 per cent among corporate employees in the last eight years.
 
Due to the gravity of the psychosocial problems in the country, Singh started seeing the business viability of the blog.
 
It was in December 2014, along with her colleagues Puneet Manuja and Prakhar Verma, she launched the web platform YourDost. The aim of the platform is to create awareness and reduce the stigma associated with mental wellness in society.
 
Through the platform, users can anonymously contact psychologists, life coaches and career counsellors online to discuss any emotional issue that is bothering them.
 
They have 75-plus experts on their platform. Some prominent ones, Singh says, are Dr Rachana Tyagi and Dr Shruti Singhal.
 
They even have career coach Roma Ahuja as they realised 25 per cent of the queries were career related and 20 per cent were from students who were anxious about academics. However, it is the queries on relationships that they get the most.
 
Along with the website, YourDost is also available as a mobile app for Android platform, which is free to use.
 
Around 1,000 people access their website daily to resolve their problems through live chat, messages, discussion forums or email. This number is growing at about 40 per cent month on month, claims Singh.
 
The company recently raised its angel investment of around Rs 2.5 crore from Phanindra Sama of redBus; Aprameya Radhakrishna of TaxiForSure, Aneesh Reddy, founder of Capillary Technologies amongst others.
 
The company doesn’t have any revenue model and wants to focus on getting a large user base. They will then introduce a commission-based model where they will charge for in-person meetings, phone calls etc.
 
YourDOST competes with counselling and mental health support startups HealthEminds and ePsyclinic in India.


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