Just two months into the existence of Juno Clinic, it was evident the company’s business model wasn’t going to cut it. Founded in January 2016 by Davman Technology Services, Juno was meant to meet a pressing and widespread health need—that of accessible, affordable psychotherapy.

To do this, it aggregated independent mental health professionals—psychologists and psychiatrists—on an online platform, making them accessible both offline and online. With $2.4 million in funding from individual investors including Atul Nishar, the founder of Hexaware Technologies & Aptech Computers, Juno was one of the first chains of its kind in the country.

The opportunity couldn’t have been more apparent. Conservative government estimates state that nearly 15% of India’s adults need active interventions for one or more mental health issues. The World Health Organisation (WHO), meanwhile, states that one in four people globally may be affected by mental disorders.

And while a huge market of potential patients awaits these mental health interventions, the supply side of the equation is horribly skewed. In 2017, Anupriya Patel, minister of state for health and family welfare, painted a grim picture of the mental health care situation in the country. In response to a question asked by a minister in India’s lower house of Parliament, the Lok Sabha, Patel stated there were just 3,827 psychiatrists and only around 898 clinical psychologists in the country. As against a requirement of 13,500 and 20,250, respectively.

According to the WHO, access to treatment is grim with a treatment gap of up to 95.7% for depression in India

Depression treatment gap

According to the WHO, access to treatment is grim with a treatment gap of up to 95.7% for depression in India

Set against a backdrop so stark, Juno seemed destined to succeed. It saw itself as a solution, not just to access, but to a critical factor preventing people from seeking mental health care in India. The stigma around mental illness. By allowing people to seek help remotely and discreetly, mental health issues could finally be addressed.

But Juno, and other startups such as HealthEminds and ePsyClinic which began with similar marketplace-based models, have been forced to rethink their approach entirely, scale down considerably, or become bootstrapped, respectively. They underestimated just how ingrained the stigma dogging mental illness is. Indians are still reluctant to take the plunge and get diagnosed, find a professional therapist, and open up to a stranger, however qualified. At least not en masse. Not yet.

The struggles of these startups are indicative of the prevailing attitudes in the country regarding mental health issues and the difficulties in controlling the quality of therapy in a marketplace. But this isn’t to say there isn’t a market for mental health care in India at present.

AUTHOR

Ruhi Kandhari

Ruhi writes on the impact of healthcare policies, trends in the healthcare sector and developments on the implementation of Electronic Health Records in India. She has an M. Sc. in Development Studies from the London School of Economics.

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