Mental healthcare is a right — and this has been given impetus with the implementation of the Mental Health Care Act of 2017. Those prolonged feelings of hopelessness and depression needn’t be brushed under the carpet. Especially in the current scenario, where economical mental healthcare interventions are few and far between. Thinking along similar lines is Paras Sharma, a Bengalurean and a practicing counselling psychologist. This mental health professional’s initiative #PayWhatYouWant garnered attention on twitter. Aiming to push silent sufferers to seek help without burning a hole in their pockets; Paras tells us more in a candid yet insightful chat.
“Helplines, NGOs and public hospitals are already working way beyond their capacity as they offer free services, especially with the overwhelming demand,” says the thinker who is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Social Sciences from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
Private practitioners and mental health start-ups are the only ones who have spare capacity to take on more clients, but unfortunately, these models are inaccessible to most people because — one, they don’t always offer counselling remotely, and two because they are priced beyond the reach of what most people are willing to pay for counselling. #PayWhatYouWant is a happy middle ground between these two. The user gets to access mental healthcare of quality, with an assured appointment (unlike waiting in line at an OPD or calling a helpline several times before someone answers). I usually charge Rs 950 for an online session but PWYW allows one to avail counselling by paying anything between Rs 199 to the full fee (dependant on financial status),” shares Paras, who quit his job to work towards the cause. Sharma is in the process of setting up a start-up called The Alternative Story, a website where adults can access mental health care promptly.
“We chose the name because it signifies that everyone can change the narrative of their lives, and also because we are attempting to change the narrative in terms of how mental health services are delivered in India. We are working on a website with a payment gateway, and self-help articles and resources. Soon, my first co-workers are going to join me in Mumbai and Bengaluru. This is the main focus for now,” he elucidates.
Armed with a degree in Psychology, working along those lines was always on the cards for Paras. “I knew from school days that I wanted a career in Social Sciences. Once I started studying Psychology in college, I knew this was what I wanted to pursue as a career. I learned what counselling meant in Class XII when our college appointed a counsellor and I saw people going to them and finding help on issues that they couldn’t talk about to their parents, and which we, as friends did not have answers to. That’s when I decided I wanted to be a therapist too.”
Taking the plunge to offer services as a full-time therapist hasn’t been an easy choice, but, Paras seems ready for it. “Since I am in the process of moving out of my full-time job and going to venture into the world of entrepreneurship for the first time, I don’t think my typical day is going to be the same anymore. Personally, I am also working on my PhD and hope to finish it by 2020.”
Nevertheless, there’s always time for some downtime, He says “Currently, most of my free-time is dedicated to building my practice and learning the ropes of how to set up a company. That apart, I spend time listening to music, and podcasts. Or cooking at home, watching movies and TV with my spouse, and playing with our dog.”
Determined to make the plan work, there isn’t really a plan B in this case. Paras shares, “The goals for the next two years are very clear — I want The Alternative Story to have a multi-city presence and be the first name that comes to people’s minds when they think of ethical and affordable mental healthcare which is socio-politically informed. Group therapy in the form of offline and online support groups is something we will be starting soon as well. We also will somewhere down the line offer training for other mental health professionals so that they too can offer therapy online.”
The best thing to do is to talk to someone about it.
Things get better when we share our problems with a trusted person.
We also need to be less self-critical and judgmental if we need counselling.
Quite often people get mad at themselves that they want counselling. Telling yourself that it’s okay to feel what you are feeling is extremely important. When we say this to ourselves, we open up the door for accessing the help we need.
The ability to recognise and seek help in a difficult situation shows great resilience and presence of mind. It’s definitely not a sign of