Mental Health Start-ups and Its Boom, Were We Always This Crooked?

Scope and business opportunities for mental health start-ups in India.


Gender and caste-based violence doesn’t seem to be ebbing and Indians are showing their worst side during lockdowns by way of domestic violence and abuse. As such, there is a need to step up access to mental health especially in remote areas for vulnerable sections of society. Mental health start-ups are seeing huge demand, and many are disrupting a space which has unfortunately remained nascent for too long.

What is a mental health start-up?

A mental health start-up is a company that is incorporated for the sole purpose of raising awareness around mental health issues. It provides a platform or services that initiate the right conversations among the target consumers, mostly youth. But the main goal of a mental health start-up is to provide access to reliable information and support around the problem it’s trying to solve.

What problem does it solve?

Mental illnesses lie around a spectrum and have become commonplace due to the kind of lifestyles that are rampant in today’s world. A start-up may try to solve a range of issues, most commonly depression and anxiety. Access to professional help is a major problem to be solved in this space. Mental health challenges are widespread, and the scope of the problem is large.

The boom in mental health start-ups

The biggest challenge around access to mental health in India is the stigma around seeking professional help. A lot of people struggle in isolation due the lack of access, and inadequacy of mental health facilities in their vicinity. Our country is suffering due to the severe paucity of professionals. It’s still seen as a luxury availed by the upper class since the ratio of professionals vs. countrymen is 1 to 100,000.

Anonymity – A big factor in their success

People need a safe space to talk about issues that are affecting their mental health. An online, anonymous platform is the best way they can do this which has contributed to the stellar success of start-ups. There is a need for anonymous conversations with trained, empathetic listeners online and start-ups providing this service have seen a massive volume in their app downloads or website traffic.

How did the need arise – Were we always this crooked?

As per statistics, 1 in every 5 Indians are susceptible to depression, and 150 million Indians who need immediate interventions are unable to avail them. Whereas in the private sector, about 42-46% of employees suffer from general anxiety, depression, and extreme stress.

Even with the increased conversations around mental health, it was astonishing how the true face of India’s toxic environments were unleashed during the pandemic. Many people, especially women, suddenly felt imprisoned in hostile domestic environments. While gender-based and caste-based violence and abuse in the home front were already present, the intensity of abusive circumstances came to the fore during the pandemic. The need for start-ups was always present but the need for its urgent access was validated during this time. Due to the end of physical mental health forums, the demand for online services increased.

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While gender-based and caste-based violence and abuse in the home front were already present, the intensity of abusive circumstances came to the fore during the pandemic.

What’s in it for me?

Start-ups will be unable to rake in massive revenue streams especially if it will cater to people’s benefit. You may need to self-fund the company and work in the bootstrapped mode initially if you are starting as a not-for-profit. In terms of pricing, keep the services affordable so that you can target institutions, corporates, schools, and colleges with customised solutions. You may also need to rely on donations, although donations received are free from taxation for non-profit organisations.

The scope for digital mental health platforms is large under Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative. In terms of products, self-help digital and wellness tools, or remote counselling services work very well for start-ups. In terms of your target market, the scope is diverse. You can offer your services to niche markets like housewives, medical professionals and Covid frontline workers, adolescents, the LGBTQIA+ community, people suffering from illnesses like Psoriasis that give rise to mental health conditions, the elderly who live in solitude, sexual abuse and rape victims etc.

DU Desk
DU Desk
Stories from DU Desk are the collective efforts of our in-house authors, guest authors and subject matter experts who collate and distill their ideas and thoughts to bring out actionable insights for our readers.

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