BecauseYOU, a mental-health platform, was founded in September 2020, when two friends, Daniel Lobo and Harmik Wilkho, came together to solve their own mental health and personal challenges. Intending to be a sustainable, global mental health business that creates deep impact, the focus is to create world-class programs in well-facilitated groups designed by practitioners with different approaches to mental health. Daniel's experience in group facilitation and leadership work and Harmik's background in product development and technology anchors BecauseYOU's approach.
Both the founders have themselves struggled with their mental health. Daniel was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2015. Going through intense depression made him question his self-worth and identity. He was, however, determined to live a full life - a thriving career, travel the world and raise a family. It made him prioritise his well being, slow down, and try different approaches to feel better.
Harmik's personal journey with mental health is one that most individuals looking for a therapist and a self-care journey face in India. It was chaotic, hard to navigate and confusing. But once he found a good therapist, it unlocked his own potential - he was able to understand himself better and was able to deal with life in a better way.
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During the pandemic, they spotted an opportunity to create a collaborative, humane, organised approach to mental health. One that was anchored in a community (group) based approach that made the journey less lonely, more creative and joyful for a person on a mental health journey. As Lobo puts it, "This ensures a holistic, long term solution to anyone dealing with emotional distress. Whether you're dealing with burnout, grief, stress or a diagnosable mental health condition - BecauseYOU supports you on your journey."
Since September 2020, Lobo and Wilkho have worked with almost 1000 individuals on a wide spectrum - lighter emotional distress to diagnosable mental health issues. Their clientele now includes global audiences from the US, UK, Singapore, UAE, Australia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, etc. Their pool of practitioners is slowly growing, with new offerings and approaches being introduced quarterly.
We chat with the founders to understand more about their experience working in the mental health sector and the challenges they've faced so far.
What gaps have you identified in the mental health sector, and how is BecauseYOU working on filling those gaps?
DL: The sector is marred with apps and online counselling options focused on scale rather than depth. We follow a human-centric approach to create scalable programs that follow global best practices in the mental health space. It's a lonely journey dealing with any emotional distress. People working on their mental health have few areas where they truly belong or learn from others. We have a deep belief in the power of working in groups which explains our laser focus on group-based work. Our community-led events also offer new pathways of inspiration and growth. There are very few practitioners in the mental health space who truly work together in partnership and help each other thrive. We believe that working together is a win-win situation for our customers and us as practitioners. All our programs are co-designed and delivered with practitioners with multiple approaches.
What opportunities and challenges did you face while starting the organisation? How did you overcome and make the most of them?
DL: The pandemic, rising inequality and our fast-paced, disconnected lives have led to a global mental health crisis - one that impacts all of us economically, socially and spiritually. This brings massive opportunities to entrepreneurs working in the mental health space - but also huge challenges in solving the mental health needs of millions of people around the world. The challenges and opportunities we've identified are as follows:
Rising awareness globally around the importance of working on mental health and more openness of people to seek support.
Increasing challenges of people dealing with grief, burnout, stress and diagnosable mental health conditions. Unfortunately, this is rising globally, which paradoxically is a huge opportunity for mental health social entrepreneurs.
Huge leaps in neuroscience, mindfulness and the integrated approach to mental health globally. And a massive gap, especially in developing countries in approaches to mental health.
Even though the conversation around mental health has increased exponentially, the stigma of seeking support (across different economic levels) is still very high, especially in India. Added to this is a massive gap in healthcare infrastructure with respect to psychiatrists and therapists needed.
We're pioneering a new concept of a group approach to mental healthcare. It's difficult to explain our approach to people since it's new and unorthodox.
Truly contextual, at scale studies(for India) on the mental health needs of the country. Most approaches are either imported from the West or are siloed in their approach. Creating an approach that is a blend of East and West philosophies in the mental health space is exciting but challenging - given the lack of hard data and the constantly changing needs of our population.
What has been your learning as mental health entrepreneur? Also, what have you learnt about the mental health sector in the country?
HW: Our biggest learning is that mental health needs are hugely individualised, and that needs a collaborative, humane approach to a sector that is traditionally siloed and is increasingly using an 'app-first' and a 'quick fix' approach.
Follow a product-based approach
Our framework is building, launching, and iterating products(programs) while constantly taking in feedback. We've been process-oriented and meticulous. While we build fast, we take time to truly understand what our customers need, what is creating deep impact and accounting for the changing needs of individuals and organisations. In the mental health space, this balance helps to build long term value.
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True partnerships over ego
We don't need to reinvent the wheel. Many practitioners are creating a deep impact in the mental health space. Our role is to bring them together in true partnership - one that is high on respect and creates room for partners to thrive.
Bringing the best of both worlds
Whether it's our approach of merging Eastern and Western philosophies of mental health or bringing the best of development sector passion with private sector efficiency - we balance multiple approaches for the benefit of our customers and create long term value.
Human beings over technology
While mental health apps exist aplenty, they are not a replacement for human-centric solutions. Technology applications in the mental health space are complementary to human care, but their use needs depth and credible data to make a real impact.
Divya Naik is a Mumbai-based psychotherapist