A friend in need: Bengaluru-based mental health platform ‘SoulUp’


Express News Service

Abha is a healing consultant who has experienced panic attacks and has dealt with insomnia and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Krisha is a corporate trainer who lost her mother and sister, and is learning to love herself. Sourabh is a social entrepreneur who overcame self-doubt through spirituality, and Sukhjot is an IELTS trainer who is bi-curious and has battled suicidal thoughts. If Abha, Krisha, Sourabh and Sukhjot from across India would be your ‘peers’ in the journey towards better mental health, would you give it a try? ‘No one gets it till they get it’. That’s the credo upon which the new Bengaluru-based mental health platform SoulUp works. With peer connect as its central strategy to help resolve mental health issues, the startup recently made a buzz after it appeared on Shark Tanks on March 7.

Founded by Mahak Maheshwari and Punita Mittal, the platform seeks to be a LinkedIn-like network for medical issues. The creators believe it’s not enough to have a counsellor or an expert to advise people, but someone who has been on the same page as them to help tide over life’s issues. Currently, with 300 registered peers (who have been through similar experiences) in 200 topics (from relationships to anger management), who can cumulatively speak 25 languages, the platform facilitates therapist-led focus groups. The website has completed 1000-plus group conversations since its inception and claims 
to address anger issues, body negativity, social anxiety, etc.

Punita Mittal (left) and Mahak Maheshwari, founders of SoulUp

If the peers are not counsellors or therapists, how are they qualified to disburse advice or solutions? “Their expertise and understanding comes from the firsthand experience of a challenge. Plus all peers are curated by the team and undergo training to have conversions more effectively. We also require proof of diagnosis, and for other issues, we do a verification call before any peer gets added to the network,” say the founders. They get the maximum number of queries on relationship issues such as infidelity and divorce, chronic medical conditions such as depression and anxiety, and important life decisions like adoption, going childfree and egg freezing.

Maheshwari and Mittal, who met two years ago in Bengaluru through mutual friends, don’t just share 
a background in health tech, but also the passion for building a mental well-being solution. Mittal is an IIT Delhi alumnus and has been in the healthcare space for over 13 years, while Maheshwari, an IIT Bombay alumnus, started her career at a digital health firm before they came together. “The idea struck me when I was volunteering for a year in Auroville in 2022, where I witnessed open conversations without judgement across the community,” says Mittal.

How it works
Users can search for keywords related to their issue in the search bar of the website (Soulup.com), and it throws up a list of related groups and peers. One can further filter peers based on their age, gender, topic, language, availability, etc. Users can also discover verified ‘peers’ who have been in the same boat as them and schedule video conversations with them—interactions are priced Rs 199-399 per hour.

One can also opt for group discussion led by an expert with a small group of six users, which runs for a fixed number of sessions (Rs 2,500 for a four-session group). “Neither the user nor the peer has access to each other’s telephone numbers. All conversations (45 minutes) happen via video calls over Zoom or Google Meet. Users can opt to connect over audio-only if they are feeling vulnerable,” says Mittal.

“So far we have done over 1,000 conversations and our user base typically finds us on social media pages. We get users from across Tier I/II/III cities in India as well as draw 10 percent from overseas,” says Maheshwari, adding that while SoulUp is currently website-only, they plan to launch its beta app soon.
The focus is on building more peers, the founders say. “More peers means better ability to recommend the ‘right’ peers. Nearly 20 percent of users opt-in to become peers and share their experiences. They keep coming back to speak to those they discover via 1-on-1 or groups,” they say.

How do the founders gauge the efficacy of the platform? “According to our feedback, 87 percent felt supported after a session, 78 percent found a new perspective and our calls have an average rating of 4.8/5,” says Mittal. When it comes to mental health issues, looks like there is safety in numbers.

The creators believe it is not enough to have a counsellor or an expert to advise people, but someone who has been on the same page to help others tide over life’s issues

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