In conversation with Vivek Sagar, Founder & CEO, HopeQure

With every passing day, I got more and more convinced that this problem of reach can only be addressed with better use of technology.

· How did the journey of HopeQure started and what all challenges were faced? 

In 2017, I read a report from the National Mental Health Survey of India 2015–16 which was followed by newspaper headlines like, “India needs to talk about mental illness”, “Every sixth Indian need mental health help”, “Urban areas are most affected with mental health issues” and decided to do my best effort to bring the best available technology and the Mental health experts on one platform that can be used for delivering cost-effective mental health service across the population of India. Mental Stigma to recognize the issue was the biggest challenge, I found, as people saw this as a defect and not as an illness. Soon I realized that in a country of our size where the one-sixth population needs mental health help, the trained therapists are less than ten thousand in numbers. With every passing day, I got more and more convinced that this problem of reach can only be addressed with better use of technology.

· Please define the experience of online counselling and therapy sessions during the lockdown?

COVID-19 in a way fanned the fire as we worked with our maximum strength during lockdown to provide free counselling to affected people across the country. We observed that mental health issues increased by 20% during the first lockdown and with every subsequent extension of lockdown, the mental health issues kept increasing by 15-20%. Fear of losing someone, Depression, Home violence, Anxiety, Panic attacks, and substance abuse increased as people were struggling to accept the new normal. Loneliness is a silent killer and it was evident during the lockdown. Thankfully our online counselling platform was HIPAA certified, by the time COVID-19 hit us fully, and we were able to satisfy customers' queries on trust, security, and confidentiality. Our customers were delighted to know that we are India’s only Online Mental Wellness company that is HIPAA certified and full faith in us, especially after the SSR issue.

· How many patients have used the online services of HopeQure? What is the age group of the majority here?

We have clients contacting us from all over the world. The majority of the 20 - 40 years age group and mostly females are extensively using HopeQure services. The trend of queries we witnessed was mostly around relationships (breakups, bullying, marriage counselling, clinical issues, like Anxiety, Depression, Panic attack, and fear of losing someone, etc.) Work from Home increased the stress for a lot of people as it took time for people to adjust to the new normal of multiple people constantly staying under one roof. This year was especially bad for the passing out students as they struggled with their first job and layoffs added to the trouble due to financial worries attached. But we observed, overall, the situation in India is not as bad as in other countries.

· What are the industry challenges you have observed that coerced you to jump into this space?

Mental illness is poorly understood by most. It is not a defect, it’s an illness that can be treated. Early detection of the symptoms helps in the early treatment of the problem before it manifests into physical illness and leaves its impact on the body. But, India’s healthcare budget in 2018 was Rs 52,800 crore, of which only Rs 50 crore was for mental health issues and this was reduced to Rs 40 crore the following year. Mental Health spending is not even 0.5 percent of the national health budget whereas there are over 197.3 million people with mental disorders in India. The contribution of mental disorders to the total Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) in India increased from 2.5 percent in 1990 to 4.7 percent in 2017 whereas the infrastructure in India has not grown as per the requirement. While many start-ups in the area of Mental Health started in the last ten years, deployment of global best processes and sustainable implementation of advanced technology for the benefit of the mental health clients needs a different level of commitment. For HopeQure, our effort is much beyond building a business case, it is our passion to reach every mental health client in the country and help them come out of stigma to seek counselling. While the vision might look beyond reach but with the available technology and advance online platform to fill the treatment gap, which is over 70 percent presently in our country, we feel, someday, everyone with mental health issue will be able to access mental health treatment.

· Can you define the kind of medical condition for which the majority seek online counselling and therapy sessions from HopeQure?

Over one-sixth of all health-related disorders in India are related to Mental illnesses accounting for nearly 15% of the total global mental, neurological, and substance abuse disorder as per a WHO Study. HopeQure handles all clients who are affected by mental health issues, including conditions like anxiety, depression, sleep disorder, OCD, panic attacks, PTSD, etc. We observed an increase in queries related to relationship and behavioural issues, breakups, and marital relationship issues during the lockdown. We also observed an increase in the number of Anxiety and Depression issues with entrepreneurs and MSME’s of India for which HopeQure started a joint webinar series with PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industries for the MSME’s to discussing strategies to deal with mental health conditions during these tough time. The class of 2020 got highly impacted with COVID lockdown and we started webinars for students to discuss ways to handle the pressure during this time.

· What is your company solving?

We are solving stigma, reach, affordability, and availability of certified psychologists and providing a platform that is HIPAA certified for the protection of client health information.

· Do you think pandemic is a reason for many people to opt for online counselling for the well being of their mental health?

The COVID-19 lockdown and quarantine had a major impact on the life of individuals and families impacting the mental health adversely as the daily routine was altered and it took time for people to adjust to the “new normal”. People don’t like losing control of their lives and the fear of death or the fear of losing a loved one was playing on the top of the mind causing severe anxiety. The Online Video Counselling platforms were very helpful in dealing with the sudden need for psychological support. A survey by the Indian Psychiatric Society revealed that during the first lockdown itself, the mental health concerns increased by an alarming 20 percent and so the calls also increased to seek support from HopeQure online counselling platform.

· The past few months have been very challenging for every sector. How did HopeQure deal with this?

We at HopeQure were at the front-end to provide seamless and secure counselling and many times free of cost to ensure the benefit of affordable online mental health counselling reaches everyone seeking help. Our platform and Psychologists were continuously engaged with queries pouring in from India as well as overseas and we did our best to counsel and provide support to our clients. Work from home provided extra time to employees and corporates, however, this resulted in extra stress too and we helped our corporate clients to deal with this stress related to work from home challenges.

· Explain your business and industry ecosystem in India - how are different companies solving different needs, explain the scenario in B2B and B2C?

Online mental health counselling is one of the most searched platforms post COVID-19 as the world is recognizing the contribution of mental health during these tough times. The mental health industry stood up to the need during COVID-19 as they offered free counselling across various platforms for the needy. Some companies and psychologists are using public video calling facilities however, that could be risky considering we are dealing with information regarding the mental health of individuals,

hence platform security becomes a topmost priority for us. HopeQure is known for its advanced secure platform used by world-class Psychologists for B2C counselling. Our fully automatic online B2B corporate employee mental wellness programs present a unique customer journey for each employee as everyone's goal and challenges are unique and that is discovered in the pee-assessment basis which the programs are developed automatically for each employee and each program has a different implementation time basis the mental health challenges faced by the employees. The clients and Psychologists prefer this platform for its security, advanced tech, and customer friendly processes. Its mood-o-meter keeps a track of the mood of the clients and keeps reminding the clients of the next course of the recommended action plan. Its 24*7 available secure, video communication platform is HIPAA certified to ensure the client's confidentiality and anonymity. The platform that is used by the multilingual population is internationally preferred for online counselling.

· How does your product or solution work?

HopeQure offers B2B Corporate Employee wellness programs and B2C Online Psychological, emotional, relationship and behavioural time-bound packaged Programs as well as B2C Online Counselling along with Real-Time Self – Assessment Test for our clients and corporates.

HopeQure’s Corporate Employee Wellness Program is delivered through the HIPAA certified platform providing customised schedule for each employee identified through self-assessments and worksheets including psychometric assessments and delivers solutions through self-help techniques, workshops, reading resources, psychological online games, and counselling sessions. HopeQure’s corporate employee wellness program helps employees in improving productivity, handling stress, work efficiency, ownership, communication and team cohesiveness to provide an effective and healthy work environment. It helps in dealing with the mental health conditions of corporate employees like anxiety, depression, sleep disorder, OCD, panic attacks, PTSD, etc. through regular effective counselling.

HopeQure’s Online Psychological, emotional, relationship, and behavioural treatment programs are developed for an emotional, behavioural, relationship, and psychological programs and treatment plans with time-bound implementation schedules delivered online with a holistic approach for diagnosis, treatment, care, and management of the issues of the clients. It helps in removing the initial stigma of the clients for mental health treatment or emotional, behavioural, or relationship counselling delivered as a packaged solution with a specific treatment plan.

HopeQure’s B2C Online Counseling is known for its advanced platform and world-class Psychologists for B2C counselling platform. The clients and Psychologists prefer this platform for its smooth and customer-friendly processes. Its mood-o-meter keeps a track of the mood of the clients and keeps reminding the clients of the next course of the recommended action plan. Its 24*7 available secure, video communication platform is HIPAA certified to ensure the client's confidentiality and anonymity. The platform that is used by the multilingual population is internationally preferred for online counselling.

HopeQure’s online platform lets clients conduct real-time self-assessment psychological tests. With over 50 self-assessment tests, freely available online, it also recommends steps that can be taken to improve and maintain the affected mental health condition. Its area of expertise includes – anger, anxiety, behavioural disorder, Autism, Bipolar disorder, child, adolescent, and parenting issues, depression, OCD, all sorts of phobia, and sleep deprivation.

· What is the USP/value proposition

In addition to HopeQure’s fully automated, online Corporate Employee Mental Wellness Program and B2C counselling through 650+ Psychologists team, HopeQure’s HIPPA certified platform uses global security protocols deployed along with the latest innovations in AI, NLP, and computer vision for assessments and counselling. One of the key USP of HopeQure is its well researched psychological programs for addressing various psychological, behavioural, and relationship issues in a packaged time-bound manner. Over 100 self-assessment programs help the clients to assess their mental wellness which is backed by over 150 well-researched blogs on mental health and relationship issues for the benefit of the clients.

· What according to you is the scope of online counselling and therapy sessions in India?

The most important change that has come in the perception of people after the SSR issue is people have recognized the impact a mental illness may have. As of now, the majority (as much as 62%) people were using terms like “crazy”, “mad”, “stupid”, “careless” and “irresponsible” to describe people with mental illness as per a survey of 3,556 respondents. Now, this perspective is changing. COVID-19 has presented a strong case for Online Counselling delivered remotely from the comfort of one's home or office. As a country, one-sixth of our population is already suffering from mental illness losing productivity and straining relationships at work and home inflicted mainly due to depression and anxiety. One hour every day is lost to unplanned time off due to depression and anxiety and this needs to be addressed to improve productivity and to make truly atmanirbhar Bharat. With annually over 2.2 lakh suicides in India as per WHO, we need to carefully think if Mental Health is India’s and the world’s Next Pandemic? It could very well be as it is following the physical health crisis and then the financial crisis. Is India ready is the big question? And we at HopeQure are filling the treatment gap as much as possible but we have a long way to go.

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