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Taboo over mental health must go, says The Able Mind CEO

He offers specialised service to overcome mental stress after bidding adieu to a lucrative career

Rajeev Vijayan,  Co-Founder & CEO, The Able Mind

Rajeev Vijayan, Co-Founder & CEO, The Able Mind

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The long spell of Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on people's mental health, particularly among employees and the business community. This has resulted in increased anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders, as well as financial difficulties, job loss, and social isolation. While there is greater awareness of holistic well-being, employees may still hesitate to discuss their mental health concerns due to fear of being perceived as weak or impacting their job performance, says Rajeev Vijayan, Co-Founder & CEO of The Able Mind (a specialised mental health startup)

The stigma surrounding mental health can prevent people from seeking help, leading to negative consequences for their well-being and productivity. To combat this stigma, it's essential for employers to create a safe and supportive environment for employees to discuss their mental health concerns without fear of negative consequences, he told Bizz Buzz in an exclusive interview.

He said while we may never be able to predict the human element associated with the employee-organization equation, we must recognise that employees bring their personal problems to work and these affect the equation even further. There is a need to provide employees with the necessary support wherever and whenever they need it, and for organisations to understand how their internal processes and expectations might simply exacerbate the situations even more. There is a lot of focus on work life balance but there needs to be an equal focus on results/outcomes-mental health balance as well.

What drove you to form your mental health company The Able Mind? Also throw some light on your background...

Before starting my own business, I worked in the technology sector for more than 25 years and have held a number of leadership positions, including Managing Director at Accenture, Global Head of Technology at ATOS, and CEO/Business Head at Qualitest India/APAC. In these roles, I effectively led and turned around business units across different geographies for international clients. In 2020, I took a sabbatical to reconsider my professional objectives and my ambition to have a meaningful impact on society.

Given that I had dealt with stress throughout my corporate career and that my partner is an experienced and well-respected psychotherapist, I saw the significance of tackling the problem of mental health in India, especially with the added challenges of the pandemic. This led to the creation of The Able Mind, a digital platform and mobile application using technology to provide accessible and proactive mental health support to lower barriers to seeking professional help.

How is the organisation helping make mental health help affordable?

According to our research, fear of judgment, social stigma, affordability, or not considering their issues significant enough prevent over 80 per cent of people experiencing emotional distress from seeking help. The Able Mind aims to provide accessible, affordable, and anonymous mental health support to all individuals.

Our vision is to encourage people to prioritize their mental health daily, identifying issues early, and teaching effective coping mechanisms to prevent them from becoming more severe disorders. We strive to promote awareness and lower barriers to seeking mental health support, ensuring inclusivity.

Our subscription-based service offers affordable, continuous mental health support with therapy sessions available over text on our app. We believe that money should never be an obstacle to getting help, which is why our monthly subscription is priced at Rs. 500. Our aim is to help people deal with daily stressors promptly, preventing them from becoming bigger problems. We are committed to ensuring that everyone in India can avail our services without financial burden.

What are the first signs to know that you are dealing with a mental health condition and when should one see a doctor?

When someone faces a particularly troubling situation in life, it’s normal to feel a range of emotions like sadness, anger, fear, worry and so on. However when these feelings prolong for weeks on end, with no reduction in intensity, even after the situation no longer prevails, one must consider seeking professional help. Frequency, intensity and duration are the three important aspects of differentiating an emotional reaction from a mental disorder. Some of the signs to identify if you need medical/psychiatric help is if you feel anxious and worried frequently, if you feel withdrawn from family and friends, deeply depressed, purposeless, experience intense mood swings- excessive crying or anger outbursts, disinterest in self-care, longing for substances as a way out of problems etc.

Please share some features of The Able Mind App and how can one benefit from the same?

We provide end-to-end support services at The Able Mind App, covering Awareness, Prevention, and Intervention. Our signature service, Feel Better in 15, allows clients to chat live with our counsellors to address their daily issues (Prevention). Additionally, Therapy over Text provides intensive individual counselling support with offline connectivity (Intervention). Users can participate in counselor-led peer group sessions over chat and audio with our Tide over Together feature (Awareness and Prevention). We offer various resources such as calming music, meditation guides, blogs, and assessments to help users cope with anxiety and stress (Intervention and Awareness) through the self help section on the app. Our Your Story and Mine feature enables anonymous sharing of mental health struggles, while our Therapy Corner allows users to manage sessions via Video, Audio, Email, and Face-to-Face sessions (Intervention).

How do you ensure that your team members have the necessary training and expertise to provide effective mental health support to your customers?

All of our counsellors hold a Master’s degree in Counselling, Clinical Psychology, or Psychiatric Social Work, and have at least 250 hours of supervised counselling experience. They undergo intensive in-house training for solution-focused chat counselling and meet eligibility criteria before becoming chat counselling specialists. We provide internal and external supervision for chat-based interventions, group support, and individual therapeutic interventions to ensure uncompromising quality of support. We prioritise our team's wellbeing with adequate training, challenging roles, a respectful work environment, employee-led breaks, and fun at work, enabling them to provide the best support to our users and clients.

Can you discuss any unique challenges or obstacles you have faced as a mental health startup, and how you have addressed or overcome them?

Our vision is to emphasize the importance of emotional wellbeing and encourage people to invest in it daily, just like physical health. However, changing habits and breaking the stigma around mental health support is a significant challenge. One of my primary roles as a leader is to manage clients' expectations and help them understand the benefits of prevention for managing mental health issues in the long run. It is a new concept, and we are working on increasing awareness and targeted marketing while leveraging technology to make access to support more accessible. It will take time, but I remain hopeful that the message will eventually reach a wider audience. It is absolutely important that we get this message across quickly before we hit the slippery slope that goes downhill.

What role do you see technology playing in the future of mental health care?

The under-resourced and neglected mental health care field has left many individuals struggling to access the necessary support. But, with technology's advancements, the future of mental health care looks promising. Technology can bridge the gap between limited resources available and the increasing demand for mental health support. It can raise awareness of mental health conditions and provide individuals with the tools to seek help when they need it. One of the major obstacles in mental health care is that individuals often do not realize they are struggling with a mental health condition or how to seek help. Technology can help to increase awareness of mental health conditions and empower individuals to seek help when they need it.

Wearable technology, internet of things (IoT) devices, and sensors can gather biometric data like physical activity and sleep quality, providing insights into an individual's overall well-being. This information can facilitate lifestyle changes that improve mental health, such as adjusting sleep patterns to reduce the risk of depression or anxiety.

Digital self-care tools, like self-help apps, virtual counselling sessions, and online support groups, offer individuals access to mental health support when needed, without worrying about wait times or facing social stigma. However, technology is not a replacement for traditional mental health care. The future of mental health care lies in Prevention and awareness of grounding techniques and using real-time data and products to give people a better understanding of their emotional state..

Please take us through your life journey like childhood, interests, early education, career etc.

I grew up in a modest nuclear family in Kolkata, India. Despite always aspiring to become a writer, fate took me down a different path, and I ended up pursuing engineering in Computer Science from the College of Engineering, Guindy. I joined Wipro in 1997 and since then have had a fast-paced career track that has seen me eventually become a Partner with Accenture in 2011 and take on leadership roles within global organizations. Outside of academics and work, I have a passion for trekking and have completed over 200 treks across three continents. I’m a lifelong learner who is constantly prepared to engage in debates about novel concepts. I have a penchant for thinking outside the box and regularly challenge the norm, all in an effort to find practical and innovative solutions to conventional problems.

As part of stress-busters, suggest some tips to help keep one's mind at peace

When faced with difficult situations that threaten your mental peace, step away if possible, take a few minutes, drink water, and go outside for fresh air. The Diver's reflex, dipping your face in water or splashing it with cold water, can help calm you down. Square breathing, inhaling for four counts, holding for four counts, exhaling for four counts, and holding for four counts, can reduce intense stress. While these techniques provide instant calmness, seek long-term solutions by talking to a trusted person or mental health professional. The Able Mind app offers such support, providing you with cathartic relief and effective solutions to your concerns.

Santosh Patnaik
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