Bangalore, 4 March 2023: A leading mental health organization says that, in the last 18 months (August 2021 to January 2023), at least one third of people, who reached out to them for counselling told them that they have been battling anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts, and sought upfront psychological support to combat the crisis. The Cyrus and Priya Vandrevala Foundation, which provides free mental health counselling adds that in the past three months (November 2021 to January 2023), such conversations have touched nearly 40 percent.

14 years of supporting those who need mental and emotional counselling, the foundation has facilitated 1 million+ counselling conversations to date. The only emergency 24 x 7 x 365 days available WhatsApp mental health support in India, Vandrevala Foundation’s helpline is accessible in English and 10 vernacular languages (Hindi, English, Marathi, Guajarati, Bengali, Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam, Punjabi and Urdu) free of cost to offer free psychological counselling to anyone who is experiencing distress due to depression, trauma, mood disorders, chronic illness amongst many other mental health issues.

“One third people who reached out to us told us that they struggled with mental illness, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Suicide killed more people in India than murders and coronavirus in 2022. Even if every medical student in the country today became a psychiatrist, we do not have enough people to solve the mental health crisis” said philanthropist Priya Hiranandani-Vandrevala, who leads the foundation.

A NIMHANS study in October 2022, reported that 150 million Indians may be in need of mental health care services. The 2022 National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data on suicidal deaths in India said that 1,64,033 suicides were reported in the country in 2021. It was an increase of 7.2 per cent in comparison to 2020.[1]

India in 2021 recorded 12 suicides per lakh of population. Maharashtra, followed by Tamil Nadu, MP, West Bengal and Karnataka reported the highest incidents of suicide in India, an indication that mental health crisis among the population of these states are a high cause of concern and can be attributed to multiple reasons.

“The data from Foundation suggest that 81% of the people seeking counselling on issues concerning mental health have come from Maharashtra 17.3%,Uttar Pradesh 9.5% , Karnataka 8.3%, Delhi 8 % , Tamil Nadu 6.2% , Gujarat 5.8%, West Bengal 5.4% , Kerala 5,3%, Telangana 4%, Madhya Pradesh 3.8%, Rajasthan 3.6% and Haryana 3.6%. This reflects our efforts on creating awareness of our free helpline in these regions. This data also guides us to scale our efforts and fund appropriate initiatives is low awareness states.” Priya Hiranandani-Vandrevala said.

Another crucial finding was that the preferred mode of communication changes with age and gender. Data shows that the use of WhatsApp increases with the younger population. A telephonic conversation is preferred by those over 35 years of age. This data validates that there is a need to provide crisis intervention via both WhatsApp chats and Telephonic conversation 24*7/365 days.

Usage of WhatsApp is increasing with the younger generation. The last three months of data suggests that more and more young people are using WhatsApp to get help with their mental health. 65% of people under 18, 50% of people aged 18-35, 28.3% of people aged 35-60, and 8% of people over 60 are all using WhatsApp for this purpose versus a phone call.

WhatsApp has opened communication to a different segment, who perhaps could never seek mental health support offline. Women, girls, young men, who wanted to discuss their mental health issues without the knowledge of their family or peers found a medium to seek support with this powerful digital platform that offers privacy and confidentiality. Almost 53% of women prefer to contact the helpline using WhatsApp chat, whereas 42% of men preferred the use WhatsApp chat.

The foundation is keen to expand the footprint of its free 24x7x365 free helpline (+91 9999666555) to reach more people and offer long term therapy as well.