New Delhi: Mental health is yet not a subject that most people in India would like to discuss openly. The societal pressures and backlash play a huge role in fanning stigma around such health conditions. Ironically, even those who try to find solutions too face the same dilemma as the stakeholders and investors wouldn’t take their ideas seriously.
“It took us three months to sign our first partner as the mere mention of mental health was taboo. We built a whole vocabulary of how to talk about mental health without using the words mental health and let people know how we can help their patients,” says Tarun Gupta, Co-Founder of Gurugram based healthtech startup, Lissun that is working towards developing plethora of solutions for mental health market space that is devoid of any major players.
Lissun is a team of mental health, technology and wellness professionals. The company aims to change the lives of millions of people who will benefit from psychological support in all aspects of their daily life. It’s core team comprises alumni from IIT, IIM, ISB and NIMHANS.
“One potential investor told us in the first 5 minutes that mental health issues are actually not real and the reason we hear about them a lot is because the latest generations are soft,” Tarun adds while also pointing out the irony of company being pronounced as ‘lehsun’ or ‘lee soon’ in public events. “Hardly anyone gets it right,” he laments.
Bridging the gap
The company has developed an android and iOS app through which its users get access to high quality therapists with whom they can chat, do 1 on 1 therapy as well as group therapy. Users also find very relevant content in the form of articles, videos, audios as well as exercises and assessments that are very relevant to what they are going through. This content is general as well as related to specific health conditions which may result in mental health issues like infertility, dialysis,insomnia etc. In addition they will get access to tools that help improve mental health like meditation, journaling etc.
In terms of affordability the product is already 50-60% cheaper than its offline competitors, says founders who are working on increasing efficiency as well as digital delivery to make it even more affordable without sacrificing quality.
Inception and embarking on a tough mission
Lissun’s co-founders, Krishna Veer Singh and Tarun Gupta wanted to build something in the mental health space as both of them had faced their share of mental health issues due to certain situations in their lives. They realised that the solutions in the market were inadequate and not addressing the needs of people. Another push came when they saw so many people reaching out for help with mental health during the second wave of Covid.
Tarun explains, “We were trying a number of things to figure out the right go to market strategy. Since we did not have a lot of funds it was difficult to run experiments and find the right answer. Mental health was also not the most “happening” space and with the lack of a lot of money attracting great talent was a major challenge. We decided to learn from what others before had done and get down to why no scaled solution had existed in the Indian market. Our mentors and thought partners helped us zero down on the approaches most likely to succeed and also not very costly to experiment and helped us get on the path we are on today.”
“Our objective is to solve mental health at scale in India and beyond” Tarun Gupta, Co-Founder, Lissun
The company’s objective is to solve mental health problems at scale in India and beyond. Tarun is confident that when the company achieves it by then a lot more people will be aware of mental health issues and many more people will seek and get help. “As a society we will realize that mental health is equally important as physical health and getting help will be easy and affordable for a large part of the population. We will also see that mental health would be much more tightly integrated in physical healthcare as people will realize that the two do not work in isolation and that physical health impacts mental health and vice versa. Hopefully seeking help for mental health would not be stigmatized as it is today,” he says.
Midas touch to mental health
According to an ICMR report from 2019 India has more than 200 million people who suffer from mental health issues. Post covid various estimates say this number has more than doubled. Founders are confident that with their approach they can target a US$ 100 million annual revenue in the next 5-7 years.
Tarun believes that as the spend on health increases due to government interventions, increased insurance coverage as well as ageing of the Indian population, life science startups will be at the heart of solutions that will be needed to provide high quality services to millions of users. As per him, the startups across the sector but especially working in chronic illnesses and lifestyle diseases will see major growth.
Tarun elaborates, “I think over the next decade we will see high growth across numerous new areas like mental health, genetics, digital therapeutics etc. One more trend will be building from India for the world with focus on clinical outcomes. My expectations from the stakeholders is to create an enabling environment for solutions that have potential to reach the masses through the use of technology like telemedicine, digital solutions in conjunction with medication to help manage compliance and also wider coverage of new age diseases under insurance. Government spending on healthcare will also have to increase to create more infrastructure to provide access to more people as the populations start aging.”
An upcoming unicorn
“We have raised money from institutional investors as well as marquee angels. More than funds we are always looking for the right partners in the ecosystem who believe in space and want to come together to build a large-scale solution for a large problem,” informs Tarun.
Lissun aims to become one of the largest brands in mental health space over the next 5 years and become the employer of choice for psychology practitioners across the country.
“We believe that as awareness for mental health increases and mental health care becomes more affordable we will be in a prime position to serve these customers. In the meantime we will continue to double down on our partnerships with players in the healthcare sector to provide mental health services to their clients to help them with recovery, better patient experience and in general a better quality of life especially in case of chronic diseases,” Tarun signs off.
*The story was first published in the December 2022 issue of BioVoice eMagazine.