THE WORLD Health Organisation in its new global health estimates on depression for 2015 said while over five crore Indians suffered from depression, over three crore others suffered from anxiety disorders. Generally speaking, about one in four Indians have struggled with stress at some point in time. Keeping this in mind, Vikram Beri launched BetterLYF, formerly known as Dial My Angel, an instant helpline for stress and anxiety. "Our helpline helps people overcome anxiety pertaining to personal and professional lives. Clients can connect with a psychologist instantly and anonymously over chat or call. We have over 10 psychologists in our team," he adds.
Interestingly, there is no remarkable gender difference with respect to our client database. They have about 56 percent women and 44 percent men reaching out to us on an average. So it's fairly evenly spread out.
Vikram Beri, who grew up in Karnal, Haryana, finished his undergraduate in mechanical engineering from University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign. After having worked with Deloitte Consulting, Chicago for a couple of years, he moved back to India in 2009. His family has been in business of farming equipment for over three decades now and always had a deep focus on education and learning.
Though what remains a cause of concern is that such problems are always shrouded in anonymity even though now more women are open about it. After Deepika Padukone admitting to this, recently Ileana D'Cruz also went public about her battle with depression. She had said in a statement at the 21st World Congress of Mental Health, "I was always a very self-conscious person and was picked on for my body type. I used to feel low and sad all the time, but didn't know I was suffering from depression and Body Dysmorphic Disorder till I got help. All I wanted to do was to be accepted by everyone." Vikram adds, "I agree that we are progressively becoming more vocal and open about concerns. However, there's a large set of population that is still hesitant in opening up. People appreciate a safe and confidential space where they can share without a care and build a positive perspective. Being open about mental wellness is one thing, sharing stuff about our personal and professional lives is quite another. It's not easy to tell others about our struggles in discovering a more confident self, talking about a relationship that went sour or admitting that our professional growth is not in line with that of our peers. The veil of anonymity helps clients open up without being labelled or judged and they end up feeling better." There are two broad reasons why people are shy and firstly it is the stigma as according to statistics, a survey was conducted by the Cosmos Institute of Mental Health & Behavioural Sciences, in the city which said that 89% said that someone with mental health concerns are more prone to being ridiculed, discriminated and looked down upon. Almost 80% said that the bias was the no. 1 indicator that prevented people from seeking help. Almost 53% hid their struggle from their employers. "The nature of concerns is highly personal. Majority of the concerns we help with revolve around building a more confident self, anxiety, a relationship that isn't working out, infidelity, abuse, professional growth, depression, sexual concerns and peer pressure. You'll notice that other than anxiety and depression, the concerns are highly intimate," he adds.
Some experts do believe that social media is responsible for rise in anxiety even though it has connected people from far, it has also disconnected those who are closeby thus making loneliness a prevalent concern, he feels. It has become a platter to share the glamorous life stories project "unreal" prototype of relationships, appearance and lifestyle. It has led to seeking validation online, fear of missing out, social media comparison which may contribute to anxiety.
BetterLYF charges `250 per session. A session may be either 20 minutes of call or 30 minutes of chat (since some time is lost in typing). They recommend a minimum of two sessions to understand the concern and build a plant to address it. However, some cases with mild concerns require just venting and listening and can be addressed in one session. The effectiveness of the chat depends largely on concern and the client. As therapy for mild concerns may involve navigating through their thoughts and feelings, and a conversation over text can bring a lot of clarity. They can also save the conversation and revisit as and when needed. Sometimes clients prefer to chat as a matter of convenience where their present space does not allow them to speak on phone as it offers the highest form of confidentiality. In the absence of voice, they feel a slightly higher level of anonymity than over a call.
"Anxiety has today become a dayto-day life concern as individuals tend to feel more pressured to achieve everything in a quick span of time in the fast-paced world. We wish to accomplish life goals and constantly compare our progress with those around us. This comparison leads to unrealistic negative assumptions and `What if...?' ques- tions in our mind. While we have till now helped more individuals deal with anxiety related to the professional front such as examinations, professional setbacks, inability to fulfill parental expectations, public speaking and fear of failure in academics or career, anxiety may also be experienced in personal lives as well. Our research and experi- ence states that the most common form of anxiety is social anxiety and around 60% individuals experience mild to moderate anxiety while presenting in front of an audience. On the personal front, individuals may experience anxiety in relationships which stem from insecurities or inability to trust and form healthy bonds. They may also experience anxiety related to different aspects of the self such as body image and personality traits such as introver- sion," he adds. Anxiety can manifest at any age due to a variety of reasons like genetics, past experiences, environmental factors, life situations etc. BetterLYF provides complete mental healthcare to our clients right from psycho-education about the struggles they are facing, possible ways to deal with their concerns and evaluating future challenges that they might face and how to overcome them. Anxiety disorders are usually shaped by our previous experiences and the distorted thought patterns developed as a result of those experiences. "We focus on targeting those thought patterns, replacing them with positive, rational thoughts. Other than that, there are other healthy coping mechanisms that can be incorporated on a daily basis in order to keep anxiety in check like exercise, deep breathing, daily record of thoughts, mindfulness, muscle relaxation techniques that help in dealing with situations that invoke anxiety," he explains.
Has Vikram ever suffered from anxiety and how does he deal with it? "I am a worrier in both my personal and professional life. From worrying about my two-year-old son hurting himself to my parent's health to the future of BetterLYF, I find enough and more reasons to be anxious about. Sometimes it's bad enough for me to lose sleep. I have actually tried mindfulness and journaling to relax and rationalise irrational thoughts. It works," he smiles.
Vikram, who is an engineer and also an MBA made a big career switch and that was because his grandfather was his idol and he wanted to be like him, he was an engineer and he loved math and physics. "However, I realised in my fourth year of engineering that I wasn't cut out for it, despite excelling in my course work. It just didn't excite me. I didn't sit for a single engineering interview and instead applied to consulting firms. I enjoyed the couple of years I was a consultant and loved the business side of things," he concludes. n.