eTherapy apps to the rescue as professionals seek help

BENGALURU: As the Covid-19 pandemic intensifies across the globe, working professionals in India are becoming increasingly worried about their financial and job security, the overall economic conditions and the strain of working remotely.

“Will I still have my job?”

“How long will it take to go back to normalcy?”

“How do I manage my team while working from home?”

These are some of the questions for which they are seeking answers from psychologists online. This could be through phone calls or new age AI-based chatbot messengers like Wysa.

Psychologists and therapists, who are mostly consulting through online chats as well as audio and video calls, say there has been a 20-30% surge in professionals seeking counselling and therapy online over the past two weeks. Many offline clinics, too, are switching to online therapy. As offline clinics shut in the wake of the outbreak, the online business is seeing an uptick. “We have added 60% new users over the last two weeks and hundreds have reached out due to the Covid-19 outbreak,” says Puneet Manuja, cofounder of YourDost, an online counselling startup.

Employers as well as employees are reaching out to YourDost. “While employers are more worried about survival over the next few months, employees have various other concerns about the business at large,” Manuja says.

Professionals working in sectors that have been badly impacted due to the virus, such as travel, hospitality, restaurants, aviation and luxury brands, are at the forefront of those seeking help.

Employees at MNCs who do not have the luxury of working from home have also reached out. As businesses have stalled, these employees are anxious to know when things will revert to normal. “The pandemic is an unprecedented event and has created widespread stress and anxiety. Those suffering from anxiety disorders are at risk of worsening symptoms during this time,” says Dr Shyam Bhat, a Bengaluru-based psychiatrist.

Social distancing and workfrom-home have resulted in many feeling the stress of isolation. They are also finding it hard to lead a structured life within the confines of the home, Bhat says.

Some have taken to therapy through online counselling platform ePsyClinic, citing lack of productivity while working from home. Pregnant women, too, are facing hurdles in terms of access to healthcare and the stress is making them reach out to psychologists online, says Shipra Dawar, founder of ePsy-Clinic.

The platform counsels nearly 200 people every day on problems related to the outbreak and its resultant change in people’s lifestyles, she says. “Many IT professionals who travelled abroad for onsite projects are unable to come back. They have no clarity as to when they can, which is bound to worry them,” says Dawar.

These professionals want to interact with someone as they feel the absence of family members back home, she says. On the other hand, “many people are worried about loss of productivity (at work) as there is too much misinformation and news circulating on social media, which is distracting,” says Manuja of YourDost.

At the other end of the spectrum, AI-based chatbot Wysa is finding it difficult to answer specific user queries. As there is no clarity about the future, “professionals are anxious to know if they will have a job or pay cuts, and how long it will take for the situation to go back to normal,” says Jo Aggarwal, cofounder of Wysa.