Finding a therapist is akin to finding a soulmate. This is a person in front of whom you are going to bare your life in excruciating detail for months, if not years. Hence, finding the right one who is going to listen to you without any judgment is essential. However, this search for the perfect therapist becomes especially difficult in a country like India, where there is a serious shortage of mental health professionals.
According to the National Mental Health Survey 2015-16 conducted by NIMHANS, 1 in every 20 individuals suffers from Depression. However, it is believed that there is less than one therapist for every four lakh people. With mental health manpower being grossly inadequate, these sufferers are left to fend for their own.
This is where Calm India comes in.
Tailor-made exclusively for Indians, Calm India describes itself “India’s first 4-week science-backed” online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) course.
CBT is a form of treatment for mental health disorders like Depression and Anxiety, which aims to change the underlying pattern of how a person thinks or behaves thereby positively affecting their mental health. Calm India’s course aims to address the gap between the supply and demand of mental health professionals, with the help of the ubiquitous internet.
The initiative is a product of Avalon Labs, a for-profit company that works on multiple, wide-range of products run by Varun Mayya, the former CEO of Jobspire, and ex-investment (IIFL) banker, Shashank Udupa. However, Shashank describes Calm India as their passion project.
Calm India was one among several other startups being managed at the same time at Avalon Labs, and initially, was not a priority. However, the personal experiences of the founders themselves led to the early delivery of this unique platform.
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“When we were managing multiple startups at the same time, job stress became a huge issue. That’s when Calm India jumped the queue as we were going through the stress of managing multiple responsibilities,” says Shashank Udupa, outlining the founders’ personal experience with mental health issues that essentially fast-tracked Calm India.
Aimed at the 17-35 age group, Calm India provides a 4 week CBT package which consists of 13 video episodes, narrated by Faraz Khan, an actor, in addition to audiobooks and a reference deck.
Calm India acknowledges the short attention spans of the said age group and hence prides itself on having designed content which is simple, humorous, empathetic, and uses simple experiments to explain fairly complex scientific points—be it may the skewed thinking patterns of people with depression and anxiety or the coping mechanisms of our brain.
The age group of 17-35 contains students and early-career working professionals who may not be able to afford to pay for a treatment like CBT, which may cost as much as Rs 1200 per session. Patients often have to attend multiple sessions to reap the benefit of the treatment, and even if they ask for their parents’ help, mental health awareness in India is not adequate, and hence they will have to have a difficult conversation with them, says Shashank.
Hence, Calm India aims gives them an option by providing access to the whole course at Rs 399—a one-time price, that costs less than a pizza and much reliable than babas and miracle workers.
“We are not making any profit out of this. We wanted to genuinely help people,” says Shashank.
A debilitating and often misunderstood condition, depression and anxiety cause a huge economic burden to not only individual families but also to the nation as a whole. Hence, seeking treatment is not only advised but encouraged. Even Shashank is quick to clarify that Calm India is not trying to replace therapy or any other form of psychological help as nothing beats the good old one-on-one consultation. However, where this isn’t possible due to financial difficulties or geographical constraints, Calm India can be helpful as an alternative.
But why does Calm India prefer CBT as a treatment option? Aren’t there many other treatment options for depression?
“We have analysed over 1400 research papers with the help of qualified therapists and believe that for our purpose of providing affordable and easily digestible material for the masses, CBT is a clear choice. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that computerized CBT if implemented correctly (to ensure a low drop-out rate), can be as effective as the standard CBT” says Shashank.
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The Calm India team confidently states that each of their claims is based on solid research and lists out all the papers on its website. They are happy with the feedback they have already received.
Calm India’s plans include launching the same content in other regional languages and coming up with other verticals that may cater to specific issues like job stress, relationship issues etc., that may adversely affect one’s mental health.
While mental health facilities and awareness in India leaves much to be desired, more ventures like Calm India are needed, but only if they are backed by hard science and research.