As the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, which can only be described as deadly and insidious, psychological scars that the virus is leaving behind are just as devastating and gruesome.
At present, there are more than a million confirmed cases of coronavirus around the world. In India alone, the number of cases has crossed 3000 with over 70 deaths.
In India and in most parts around the world, a lockdown has been imposed upon the people to contain the virus and social distancing has been prescribed as the only way of keeping the disease at bay. As a consequence, people have been compelled to stay at home (in many cases, alone), with no idea of when it'll be safe to step out again. The burden of the disease, along with the uncertainty and chaos that it brings along, has been difficult to cope with.
According to the World Health Organisation, at least 7.5 percent of India's population, which amounts to approximately 90 million people, suffer from mental health problems. However, since the topic of mental health or therapy is still considered a taboo in the country, only a few end up seeking help.
The lockdown poses another problem for people who haven't been able to step out of their homes for therapy or meet their therapists face-to-face to discuss how they've been feeling in times of coronavirus.
However, there are other ways too. Therapists across the country are now have opened up virtual doors for online sessions. Meanwhile, thanks to technology, mental health apps are galore. If you type "mental health" or "anxiety" in the search section of your play store, you'll be greeted with hundreds of suggestions to choose from.
We tried a few of them.
Most of these applications have a chat-based system, where you can either talk to therapists or AIs. The best part about this has to be the convenience; if you're speaking to your therapist through video conference, chances are, you'll have to adhere to their schedules. But for those of us battling anxiety on a daily basis, panic attacks seldom come announced.
In that case, simply chatting with a therapist online can work wonders.
Both Android and Apple have a number of apps dedicated solely to mental health where you can chat with therapists for free or by paying a nominal amount.
We decided to try out four such apps - Wysa, PinkyMind, Let's Meditate and Now&Me (a platform).
Let's Meditate, from the Heal Me Team, has a 4.8 rating on the Android Play Store. The app, which is mainly for guided meditation, has a plethora of options to choose from. After signing in with basic details, you'll be shown the options and you can choose the one that suits your mood.
For instance, the one titled Deep Relaxation is fourteen minutes long and can really calm your nerves if you're in a state of panic, which seems to be a constant mood these days.
All you really have to do is download the audio, so make sure you have storage space on your phone. I tried it after a long, exhausting day at work, and it really worked! Here's a tip - use headphones and meditate in a dark or dimly lit room for best results; also, keep your phone on the silent mode to avoid distractions.
If you're having trouble sleeping, the app has an option for that too! The audio, also fourteen minutes along, relies on the sound of ocean waves to calm you and help you sleep. Science proves that the sound of the ocean, consisting of binaural beats, can help reduce stress and calm nerves.
Moreover, here's what really seemed to have an impact - in stressful times, having a soothing voice guide you can really work wonders. Yes, staying attentive and following the instructions may seem like a task especially if you're as agitated as I was when I tried the app. But it gets easier when you get the hang of it.
Wysa is slightly different. The app, which has a 4.7 rating on the Android playstore, relies on a chatbot to communicate with the users. The fact that the chatbot is a cute penguin really does the trick. Here's an interesting thing I noticed while signing up - the app really tries to personalise the experience by using a nickname. Hence, when the penguin crops up from time to time on your screen to ask you how you've been doing, it almost feels like confiding in a friend!
However, the chatbot, like most AIs has a set of pre-determined answers to your questions. So, irrespective of what you ask the penguin, it'll feel like speaking to a customer service executive you contact when your food delivery takes longer than usual! Of course, the app has a feature which allows you to speak to certified therapists, but you have pay for that. If you're not willing to, these automated answers are all you got.
That's where PinkyMind emerges a clear winner. The app has an elaborate sign-in process and gives you the freedom to choose the kind of help you want. There's also an option where you can speak to therapists for free!
If you opt for the chat option, you will be assigned a certified therapist within a couple of minutes. This is no AI, so you won't be asked generic and vague questions. Naturally, that gives the interaction a personal touch and to be honest, that's the closest thing to a therapist these days.
You can speak to the therapist about what you're feeling and vent if needed. You can also choose to opt for the paid services and schedule multiple appointments with the therapist of your choice. For paid users, there's a video call option as well which you can use to speak to therapists.
Now&Me, on the other hand, can be a great way to stay connected if you've been feeling isolated and alone during the lockdown.
The website can be better described as a community. Here, you can share your story, speak to strangers while simultaneously keeping your identity anonymous, read up experiences of others, take part in discussions related to problems you might be facing and even offer advice to others who might value your suggestions.
There are different categories, including physical health, relationships, anxiety, stress and so on. There is also a separate category called 'Women's World', which as the name suggests, focuses on topics pertaining to women's mental and physical well-being.
Yet, even though you get to interact with real people here, it seems more like a chatroom from the early 2000s. More importantly, would you be entirely comfortable sharing your thoughts and problems with a group of strangers? Personally, I had my guards up as the fear of being judged really got in the way of opening up.
Nevertheless, the website does have a number of insightful blogs and an all-encompassing section on women's health which can be really educational otherwise.
But here's what I learnt through this experiment - mental health and seeking help for the same is extremely personal, and you really need to find an app that suits your taste because what may work for someone may not really work for you. Trial and error, that seems to the only solution in this case.