Plans to offer AI therapy chat over WhatsApp for easier access
Wysa, the world’s leading AI-based digital companion for behavioral health, today announces plans for a Hindi language mental health app, which will also be accessible through WhatsApp. ACT, a non-profit venture philanthropy platform, is supporting the initiative and is seeking a co-funding partner to propel the development further. The pilot is expected to commence in early 2023.
Says Neetha Joy, Director – Healthcare at ACT, “This is a first of a kind effort for us, to partner with an established player to make a proven solution accessible to millions. With 14% of our population suffering from mental health disorders and the pandemic exacerbating the lack of access to quality care, we need innovative solutions to address this chasm as there aren’t enough trained care providers to meet this latent demand.”
The first iteration of the Hindi app will guide users through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) exercises via text with a mobile phone-based conversational agent, to help users manage depression and anxiety. The app will guide users who show moderate to severe symptoms towards a clinical program and wellness tools to others.
Wysa is popular with employers and healthcare providers due to its scalability and low cost. Being an AI based app, Wysa overcomes the stigma and privacy concerns that often prevent people seeking help for their mental health. Wysa’s English mental health app has to date served approximately 528,000 people in India, primarily through large multinational employers and direct-to-consumer downloads.
Despite its popularity, the lack of Hindi language support remains a barrier in reaching diverse socio-economic groups and demographics. Offering an app in Hindi aims to reduce this access barrier, as a large proportion of the country is conversant in Hindi, and it brings a proven and tangible mechanism to increase communication and access for the vast majority of communities in India.
As well as overcoming the language barrier, making Wysa’s AI therapy conversational agent available through WhatsApp aims to appeal to people who prefer to avoid downloading new apps. There are 487 million WhatsApp users in India, making it the top messenger application in the country. WhatsApp is not only ubiquitous but also ensures high user engagement, as much of the population relies on it for regular communication, helping therapy dialogue become a part of everyday life.
“In our ambition to help 50 million users by 2025, we must go beyond the barriers of literacy and language to create access to mental health support for all. We’ve shown that therapy through Wysa appeals to those who are unwilling to come forward to talk about their mental health problems. We have a long way to go in overcoming mental health stigma in India, but with this Hindi version of our universally popular app, delivered through Whatsapp, is a great place to start,” said Jo Aggarwal, CEO and co-founder at Wysa.
“Ludwig Wittgenstein’s said ‘The limits of my language online mean the limits of my world.’ By providing mental health support in Hindi, one of the most popular languages used in India, via Whatsapp, a platform that most Indians have access too even in rural areas, we are lowering the digital divide, moving closer to our goal of providing scalable, equitable and accessible emotional support,” added Smriti Joshi, Chief Psychologist at Wysa.
“A large part of the population in India primarily speaks in Hindi, which poses a huge language barrier for availing mental health support in addition to the stigma. Wysa in Hindi has the capability of reaching not just the metro cities but also tier 2 and 3 cities where mental health issues are more prominent and less talked about. With the simplicity of this app and science-backed techniques such as CBT, it is hugely beneficial for Hindi speakers to get guidance in their native language. In my many years of working in the mental health field, I have never seen such an initiative and I am positive that it will benefit a lot of people.” says Dr. Roma Kumar, Clinical Psychologist and Senior Consultant at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi.