Shweta (name changed) was suffering from work-related anxiety, which was first noticed by her colleagues. They encouraged her to speak with a mental health expert. Luckily for Shweta, her organisation had a tie-up with a mental healthcare start-up, which counselled her on ways to cope with her condition. 

The convenience and anonymity offered by such online counselling platforms makes them more attractive to individuals who may otherwise shy away from seeking mental healthcare owing to the stigma attached. Amaha, MindPeers, Lissun, Wysa, and YourDost are among a host of start-ups in India that are trying to bridge the gap in mental wellness services. 

Industry experts foresee a steady increase in demand for such services, given the rising incidence of anxiety-related disorders, depression, and work-related stress.

Comfort factor

Revenue from the mental healthcare segment is projected to touch $1.06 billion in 2023 and witness a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 1.11 per cent during 2023-28.

Since 2019, home-grown mental health start-ups have cumulatively raised funding of $46.1 million, according to industry tracker Traxcn. 

The services offered by mental healthcare start-ups range from individual counselling to group therapy, online workshops and webinars, and community support.

MindPeers offers quality therapy at an affordable rate, says Kanika Agarwal, a co-founder. 

“We are also training and assisting therapists and [mental health] experts to build their practices virtually. We run certified courses,” she adds. 

Bengaluru-based Amaha says it offers end-to-end mental health support — namely therapy, psychiatric care, self-care, psychometric assessments, and community support. Its lifespan services cover mild, moderate, or severe mental health conditions ranging from anxiety and depression to attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder, psychotic disorder, addictions and more.

The new-age start-ups in the mental healthcare sector are combining artificial intelligence (AI), deep search, gamification, and UX (user experience) and UI (user interface) technology to fine-tune their preventive care services. 

United We Care says its AI-powered virtual assistant, Stella, can decipher over 40 different emotions and communicate in 29 regional languages to provide personalised support and guidance to those struggling with mental health issues. 

“Stella can help people with assessments to understand their state of mind, and tasks such as finding a therapist, setting goals, and tracking their progress. She can also provide support and resources for specific mental health conditions. Stella can detect mental health issues with 80 per cent accuracy,” says Ritu Mehrotra, CEO and founder of United We Care. 

Business model

Most mental healthcare start-ups in India operate as both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-customer (B2C) entities, catering to clients who look for therapy services online.

“We are a primarily B2B2C-focused company, as awareness of mental wellness can best be initiated only from a position of trust and our B2B partners are healthcare institutions that have the implicit trust of their clients,” says Tarun Gupta, co-founder, Lissun. 

The firm derives 90 per cent of its revenue from therapy consultations initiated by its customers through its affiliated healthcare chains or centres, he says. The platform has over 20,000 users and 60 full-time therapists. 

In the case of MindPeers, its B2C vertical offers therapy, digital tools for creative art expressions, measurement of mental health progress, and diagnostic tests through a subscription model, while its B2B vertical partners with organisations seeking mental healthcare services for their employees. 

Amaha says its app has registered over 5 million downloads and the platform draws visitors from over 350-plus cities in India.

Its B2C offerings include self-care tools, therapy, psychiatric services, and access to supportive communities both through its mobile app and its in-person centres in Delhi, Mumbai, and Bengaluru. 

Through its B2B vertical it has partnered with over 50 organisations to reach nearly 7 lakh users, cumulatively offering over 600 self-care tools, webinars, on-ground activities, therapeutic support, and psychiatric care.

Need for more

Gurugram-based hospital chain start-up Sukoon says it has provided mental health services to over 20,000 people in the past three years.

Beyond its three centres in Delhi, the chain plans to open more in Bengaluru and Mumbai later this year, says Vidit Bahri, co-founder and growth officer, Sukoon Health.

“We have been growing steadily since we opened doors three years ago. We are eager to continue this upward trajectory and make an impact in the country’s mental healthcare ecosystem,” he says. 

While access to funding has improved, it is not at the desirable rate, says Agarwal of MindPeers. 

She says the inadequate response is not just from investors but also potential users, given the limited awareness on mental health issues and treatment. “Ironically, though India is among the top three countries in the incidence of depression, anxiety and suicide, yet we are not ready to seek help,” she says. 

Echoing this sentiment, Namit Chugh, Principal at a healthcare-focused thematic fund W Health Ventures, observes that the demand for mental health solutions in India is both compelling and urgent. 

“With only 9,000 psychiatrists and 1,000 psychologists countrywide, there is a need for accessible and effective solutions, and tech innovation is the only answer. The potential for AI and other digital technology to create a meaningful change in mental health is significant, and we’re excited to be a part of this journey. Our investment reflects our commitment to promoting better mental health outcomes for all,” he says.