According to the data available, around 300 million people across the world suffer from depression and close to a million people commit suicide every year. Suicide is the second most leading cause of death in 15-29 year olds. If you add other forms of lifestyle related mental disorders, the numbers increase dramatically.
According to WHO report,
“One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide. Treatments are available, but nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental disorder never seek help from a health professional. Stigma, discrimination and neglect prevent care and treatment from reaching people with mental disorders, says the World Health Organization (WHO). Where there is neglect, there is little or no understanding. Where there is no understanding, there is neglect.”
In our opinion, mental health disorders are most ignored form of disorders. Either people do not know when to take help or they do not know where to go for help. In the west, where awareness is high, lack of availability of therapist poses another challenge. Waitlists for support in developed countries like UK, US and Singapore can be in months. In the UK, for example, only 30-40% of the folks who need help are able to get it in time. In developing countries, apart from awareness, affordability also negatively impacts seeking help.
Given the situation, how can this be transformed? We believe that we can not train enough therapists to meet the supply and demand mismatch. Also, timing of help is critical in this space. If you do not get help when you need it, the results can be disastrous. It forms a compelling case for AI to step in. What if I can provide you a therapist who can work with you when you need it right on your fingertips via your smartphone! That is exactly what Wysa does. It is an AI enabled coach available on android and iOS. One can chat with it 24x7 anywhere in the world. If you need further help, they have human coaches on the back to support the process.
At the heart of Wysa is a sophisticated AI driven engine which has learned from over 100M conversations from hundreds of people across the world. It listens to you and gently guides you as your personal coach and friend. In our opinion, this is a brilliant use case for AI. The fact that each conversation needs to be tailored to the person you are talking to, a traditional rule based engine would not cut it. It needs advanced NLP engine to understand the meaning as well as the emotions in the dialogue and then guide the conversation accordingly.
Founded by Jo and Ramakant, Wysa is now 3 years old. It started off as an app which can guess your mental health state by the way you are using the smartphone. Slowly they realized that unless they are able to provide help, just diagnosing the issue is job only half done. And then they worked on creating the AI engine which can work like a psychotherapist without any human intervention.
Today, Wysa is a leader in AI for mental health with 1.2 million users from 30+ countries. Every year, over a million breakthroughs happen on Wysa. To put this in context, achieving this scale of impact in face-to-face therapy would need at least 2,000 excellent therapists working full time. Further, we have begun to create a cadre of online therapists who excel at building a therapeutic relationship over anonymous chat, and giving people a sense of progress in less than a month.
When we met Jo and Ramakant, their passion for the problem was infectious. We then deep dived with them to understand the technology as well as the product in great depth. Finally we decided to partner with them in their exciting and meaningful journey. We do believe that if done right, Wysa can create a zero-stigma pathway to support for people who are struggling and has a real chance of solving depression and mental health challenges at scale. We wish them all the very best and are grateful to be working with them.