New Delhi: A number of Indian meditation and mental wellness mobile applications are increasingly finding global takers, particularly after the Covid-19 outbreak. Apps such as Let’s Meditate, Wysa, the Sadhguru app and Innerhour have picked up millions of users, including a large chunk from abroad, even as international apps such as Calm and Headspace dominate the market with at least ten million users each.
What do these apps offer? Depending on the app, it can be meditation, spiritual wisdom, self-help, or therapy, all in “bite-sized digestible capsules” as one industry player put it.
Take the Sadhguru app. Run by spiritual guru Jaggi Vasudev’s Isha Foundation, it offers meditation practices to help users relax and podcasts by Vasudev, known as Sadhguru.
Launched in 2018, the app now has four million users of which 32% are abroad. Its downloads increased by 44% since Covid-19 hit India, according to an Isha spokesperson. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, Sadhguru has suspended all public events but has been intensely active online,” the person said.
Wysa – a depression and stress therapy chatbot founded by Bengalurubased duo Ramakant Vempati and Jo Aggarwal – now has two million users. Its downloads more than doubled since the pandemic started and its revenues have shot up by five times since a year ago, Saha said.
Users of the app can talk to an artificial intelligence-based bot for free and get guidance managing anxiety and sleep, or pay and talk to a therapist. Wysa does not deal with severe mental illnesses but focuses on early-stage supportive therapy, Vempati said. Around 80-85% of its users are abroad, and therapists in India service these users anonymously via text.
Innerhour, started by Amit Malik, a doctor, offers automated self-care programs based on branches of psychology like cognitive behavioural therapy and positive psychology, and access to therapists. It has seen exponential growth with 700,000 downloads so far. Its revenue and monthly user base have shot up two to three times since the start of the pandemic, according to Malik. Half of the app’s users come from abroad.
The pandemic seems to have opened a pandora’s box of mental health problems as people are faced with multiple tensions related to work and family even as they largely remain cut off from the rest of the world due to Covidinduced restrictions and social distancing norms.
“We’re seeing more depression, anxiety, OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), stress, (and) PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder),” Malik said. “Many pre-existing problems are surfacing now. Isolation and job uncertainty have exacerbated them.” One factor driving the growth of mental health apps is the option for users to remain anonymous.
Many people are still reluctant to talk about mental stress and anxiety with family members and close friends. Apps offer them anonymity and a way to access therapists without anybody else getting to know about it. “People are looking for support. There’s not much social interaction,” said Sagar Vasnani, founder of Let’s Meditate, that has 1.6 million users with a majority of them abroad.
The Mumbai-based company has inked a partnership with mobile maker Samsung to develop a sleep guide on their voice assistant Bixby, said Vasnani who is currently in the US. The app is entirely free, with revenues coming in from donations or corporate partnerships, he said.
Wysa’s Vempati, too, said his company is seeing a lot more in-bound interest from enterprises, insurance companies and hospitals in India and abroad since the start of the pandemic. Wysa, which recently partnered with American insurance company Aetna, has increased its number of employees to 50 from 30 before the pandemic started.