YourDOST is an online emotional wellness platform where people can seek support from experts such as psychologists, coaches, and other psychiatrists. I spoke with Richa Singh, founder of YourDOST to learn about the work being done.
1. What was the motivation behind setting up YourDOST? Who were the people involved? What were the biggest challenges in setting up?
The idea took birth out of personal experiences. When I was at IIT Guwahati, my hostel-mate committed suicide due to anticipating a bad career placement. None of us had any clue about her mental state before she took this drastic step. I strongly felt that her death could have been avoided had she sought some help. That is when I realised that even though we had counsellors and psychologists on campus, hardly anyone sought their support.
When I started working, I noticed people around me were stressed due to work pressure and relationship issues. However again, most of these people were not willing to talk about their problems fearing social stigma as well as being called ‘mentally ill’.
During this time, Puneet, co-founder of YourDost and I started talking about these issues. Puneet had also faced similar experiences – he had faced job placement stress even though he was a gold medallist in his batch. We brainstormed and created our first business idea. We pitched it at competitions like ISB IDiya and received a positive response, which we used to refine our idea
We discussed creating a platform where people can seek support anonymously. I discussed this with another co-founder, Satyajeet, I and he loved it. I vividly remember that within less than 24 hours he was coding to make the idea work. In December 2014 the idea shaped up into a technology product – www.yourdost.com.
Later, we had some problems in scaling the technology as Satyajeet lived in the US. We then fortunately met Prakhar Verma (ex-Capillary, Presently Co-founder and CTO of YourDOST). He immediately agreed to work with us to grow the platform and since then. things have been falling in place.
Mental health care in India is in its nascent stages and has started to see an influx of start-ups lately. If we were to compare ourselves to Indian competitors or western counterparts, we are trying to approach the problem in a different way by trying to break stigma and target the unmet demand of people who are not yet seeking support. We are trying to focus on Business to Consumer and work directly with people rather than corporate organizations.
Additionally Puneet and I did not have a background in psychology and it took us time to understand the field – we did this by approaching experts and understanding their experiences. It was wonderful to see how helpful everyone is.
2. Could you share more about the people who use YourDOST– is there a demographic profile you notice or is it more varied?
YourDOST has reached out to more than 2.5 lakh people so far. On a daily basis, we carry over 700 one-to-one conversations. The demographic of users is between ages 18-35 including students, working professionals, newlyweds, new parents, housewives, entrepreneurs. The queries revolve around stress, depression, issues of career navigation, career choices, relationship issues, and productivity at work, communication issues, personality development and more.
Out of 700 sessions per day, over 35 % come from students and young professionals who want to seek emotional guidance and support in terms of academics and careers. About 30% queries are about relationships – love, marriage, changes in life post marriage, divorce. About 20 % are from parents about dealing with their baby, career and/or teenage children. About 15% come from entrepreneurs and people trying to set up their business.
3. Tell us about the staff at YourDOST, their roles and professional experiences?
The total number of staff at YourDOST is 22 full-time employees. The average age is about 24 years making it a very young organization. They belong to operations, tech, marketing and content or counsellors in YourDOST. We have people with varied educational backgrounds such as engineering, commerce, management, law, counselling, clinical psychology and more. All full-time employees work out of Bangalore itself. Several counsellors on the YourDOST platform are on a contractual basis and work out of Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, Pune and several other cities in India.
Along with the core team, we are really fortunate to get mentors and advisors like Sanjay Anandram and Phanindra Sama who have built scalable Indian companies; Dr. Archana Tyagi (who has served as a counsellor and coach at high stress border areas in countries like India, Afghanistan); Dr. Mazumdhar (who has been the expert behind building Healthcaremagic) and more.
4. What have been some of the main challenges in operating YourDOST, especially given that there is a big gap in provision of mental health services?
Conventional Indian society tends to associate the term “mental illness” with madness and insanity. Communicating feelings of weakness and vulnerability is considered a sign of weakness. So people prefer to keep their problems to themselves because there is a fear of being judged and misunderstood.
Reaching out to a counsellor for therapy is a matter of shame in many families because they consider it as damaging to their social status. Seeking support is considered a sign of weakness. All these conventions have led to a society where talking about mental illness is nothing less than a taboo. The following are key aspects of the problem and need in the Indian context:
- Awareness: Many people in India are not aware of symptoms of depression and tend to carry on with their life without realising that they need help.
- Access: In Indian society, even after identification of depression and related issues, reaching out to a counsellor for therapy is a matter of shame. It is kept under wraps and often worsens the issue.
- Support system: In India, people cannot really talk about their concerns and identified mental health issues without fear of being misunderstood/judged.
Fortunately, things are changing for the better. The modern, urban Indian society is opening up to the reality of high stress, depression, anxiety issues. Celebrities like Deepika Padukone and Honey Singh opening up with their battles with depression and bipolar disorder is encouraging for many people to open up about their problems.
5. What are YourDOST’s plans for the future?
Our plan is to focus on the Indian market and expand to serve it. We want to become a one stop solution for people’s wellness be it personal, professional or academic. The funds we raise will help us to scale up our efforts and have a pan India presence with a portfolio of experts.
Check out more on their website here.
All images courtesy YourDost