Shiya Sagar, the co-founder of HopeQure, talks to G20 about myriad challenges and woes that the pandemic has wreaked upon mental health. Excerpts:
Q. Tell us about the story behind the conception of HopeQure.
A. HopeQure’s journey began in 2017 when a report from the National Mental Health Survey of India was released and that made headlines like “Every sixth Indian need mental health help”. This motivated me to put my best effort to create a mental health platform that could address the need for mental health clients, as I observed the stigma for seeking treatment is the biggest issue. People saw mental health as a defect whereas it is an illness and can be treated. This challenge motivated me to bring high-quality mental health treatment with the help of advanced technology and best-qualified psychologists. We realized that a country as big as India lacks access to certified mental health therapists which are less than ten thousand in numbers.
Q. How has HopeQure.com been able to tackle the mental, physical, and emotional upheaval amid the pandemic?
A. 2020 has presented an unprecedented challenge to humanity in more than one way. Daily life disruption and social isolation were some of the toughest to deal with causing stress, anxiety, and depression among people. Loss of job (or fear of loss of job) or long work hours and staying away from their loved ones was mentally strenuous for the millennials and the Gen Z. The major challenge that HopeQure handled was handling stigma as we were dealing with the people who were seeking counseling for the first time. With the published figure of 197.3 million people (Global Burden of Disease Study – 2019), the prevalence of mental illnesses is probably due to the treatment gap of over 70% in India. The psychological impact of quarantine has made the matter worst with thoughts like “fear of losing a loved one” or “What will happen If….” as it took time for people to accept the new normal and this made people think as if they are losing control over their lives.
Q. How was it useful for the youth and how did you help them?
A. HopeQure is India’s first HIPAA certified mental health platform. We work towards making the sessions confidential and private to help our clients feel comfortable in seeking mental health treatment. A range of Psychologists in HopeQure is using the platform primarily for the ease of use and security. We have been taking special care of our young customers as they are most vulnerable during present times. The anxiety in the younger generation is primarily due to the uncertainty around them, due to the long closure of schools, colleges, workplaces, cinema halls, shopping malls, gyms, and other recreational centers. The class of 2020 suffered specifically due to untimely lockdown, withdrawal of job offers, and lack of new jobs due to Covid-19 lockdown.
Q. What are the most debilitating and mentally disturbing challenges in the present environment? 
A. Covid brought with itself new norms like social distancing and masks which got most people out of their comfort zones. Working from home resulted in spending more time with our family and even with ourselves. This transformation of lifestyle was not only new but also uncomfortable for many to cope up with sometimes leading to behavioral issues within families. The fear of death, losing the close ones, forced isolation, and loneliness resulted in domestic violence, anxiety, depression, and dependencies on substance use. It was during this time that we at HopeQure worked with the highest efficiency to provide affordable counseling sessions for people across India. On the positive front, COVID made people realize that there is a need for seeking mental health treatment as it provided them with the time to reflect on their concerns.