MindHug’s vision is to illuminate the path to wellbeing and happiness for everyone
My name is Chitraj, I am the CEO and founder of MindHug. My background is actually not in mental wellbeing, but rather in financial services. I studied economics at undergrad level at LSE; and like most LSE students, entered the financial district and worked in the City of London for about 15 years. I had a variety of roles including nearly a decade at the Bank of England, I also worked in Insurance and Angel investment.
Then I decided I wanted to do something entrepreneurial, though I didn’t have background in entrepreneurship! So, I needed to learn the ropes of entrepreneurship, which is when I went on to do a Masters in Entrepreneurship at UCL. This gave me an understanding of entrepreneurship and I also did academic research into mental health. Through this, I identified problems that people were facing in the mental health and mental wellbeing space. I found that people lacked access to a wider choice of therapies. They also lacked affordability and insight into what worked for them. That was what really sowed seeds for MindHug. We registered MindHug just before lockdown and that’s where I have been ever since.
How do you differentiate mental health from mental wellbeing?
I think there’s a subtle difference. Mental Health is broader and refers to the emotional state of a person, so includes mental illness. To that extent, mental wellbeing is the opposite side of the coin. Mental wellbeing is the positive side focussed improving how you feel mentally and improving emotional functioning. Mental health can at times have a medical connotation whereas mental wellbeing is about finding solutions that work for your mental and emotional health – and these can be broader than purely medical.
Can you tell us more about MindHug
MindHug’s vision is to illuminate the path to wellbeing and happiness for everyone. We recognise that one size does not fit all. The gold standard of treatments that exist in mental health and mental wellbeing, are generally CBT and / or medication. But the truth is, whilst that works for a lot of people there were also a lot of people – in fact some studies suggest up to 66% of people – who will not respond to CBT or medication. The need of the hour is to increase the choice of therapies accessible to people.
There is actually a whole raft of evidence backed medically recognised therapies that people might not have heard of but actually have a lot of evidence behind them. Such as art therapy or music therapy, yoga or mindfulness, animal assisted therapy or sound therapy. A lot of them sound alternative but have medical basis behind them. Music and art therapies are actually considered clinical therapies. So, what we wanted to do was increase the choice of these therapies. We knew that in order to do this we needed to do something that combined digital as well as therapist led solutions. We do not want to remove the importance of a therapist. A lot of the solutions that come out today are purely digital and we are bringing out a hybrid approach. Where we use digital and therapist lead solutions.
MindHug Digital, MindHug Therapist, and MindHug Concierge
We have three products. MindHug Digital, MindHug Therapist, and MindHug Concierge. MindHug Digital is an app where we digitise a lot of these therapies and it also allows people to book sessions with a therapist. And at the same time combine content with therapist time, so you get the benefit of both. That also makes it more affordable and increases the choice of therapies.
We have emotional artificial intelligence that we are developing, that helps people discover what really works well for them. We also have something called a mood diary, where people can monitor their mood and they can see how they’re feeling. At MindHug, we will be assessing this in a very ethical way, and a very secure way. It is actually going to be so secure that even we won’t have access to the data, but still be able to guide people into figuring out what works for them.
We have MindHug Therapist as well. We realised that access is not just a demand side issue, but is also a supply side issue, where therapist might not be able to reach individuals who they need to reach. So, we are providing them a whole raft of business management, client management and marketing tools to help then reach the clients far easier and to manage the client relationship as well.
We also have MindHug Concierge, our wellbeing service, that we offer institutions and organisations and universities to help them to plan and implement a wellbeing strategy. This can include workshops and training.
What inspired you to start MindHug?
I had my own personal struggles with mental health and I knew how challenging it was, and I realised that what might work for some people did not work for me. And also, what might have worked for me might not work for someone else. I came to the realisation that mental health is not just biological but there are also psychological and social elements to it. What this means is that you need to find solutions that are far more individualised for the person who is being impacted. That was the real emotive side of it.
From a more factual perspective, once I did research at university level, I identified these problems that people were facing, in accessing mental wellbeing solutions. That inspired me to want to do something.
I like the mention of ‘one size does not fit all’, so how do people choose which activities and therapies are right for them?
There will be digitised versions of these therapies just like how some apps have digitised mindfulness. You will be able to go and try some of the content and it will be far more affordable than having to go for a therapy session with a therapist every week for instance. But having said that if you do want to have a therapist session, you can have that as well. You can book a therapist using our list of therapists that we vet. The app is pre-launch at the moment, but once we do launch you will be able to access the content, and you’ll be able to book a therapist.
If there were organisations and institutions interested in what we are doing, they can access MindHug Concierge, which is live right now. Where we can help plan and implement a mental wellbeing strategy including workshops and events that introduce these wider range of therapies to organisations as well.
How do you think mental health is currently perceived by the general public?
I think COVID has changed things a little bit. I think people understand that mental wellbeing is not in the control of the individual. Everyone has mental health, just as everyone has physical health. Everyone can be impacted by it. I think people are coming to that realisation. I do still think that we have centuries of stigma that we have to overcome and we have decades of underfunding in the healthcare services.
We also have innovation that’s 30 or 40 years old. There is a lot of scope to improve the understanding and the knowledge of mental health and the treatments that are used to manage and treat mental health.
What can we do to encourage more people to look after their mental health?
Educating people, so they can see that just because you don’t have a mental health issue today, it doesn’t mean you won’t have a mental health issue tomorrow. And just like people go to the gym to work out for their physical fitness it’s equally important to work on your mental wellbeing as well. It’s building the understanding that it can happen to you. But is also important that a person understands that they are “not their mental health issue”. Just like someone who has a cold or has a fever, that person is not defined by a cold or a fever.
Often the words that we use for mental health are very misleading. Depression and anxiety are used but are understood in what we understand them to mean in the English sense of the word. This can dilute the magnitude of the problem. The truth of the matter is that these are medical conditions that need to be treated like medical conditions. Having said that, some of the solutions that will work for individuals might not necessarily be medical therapies in the traditional sense, but they have a medical benefit. It’s basically building an understanding and improving access and affordability in a way that is empowering and not stigmatising.
At what stage should people think about seeking help with their mental health?
I think people need to continually look after their mental health just like people look after their physical health. No one knows what trigger will unfortunately lead to a mental health issue. But there are actions and activities that can help you to be more resilient to mental health issues such as getting enough sleep, exercise, self-reflection time, self-care and meditating. All of these help with building a sense of resilience.
It is important to also focus on nipping any issues in the bud before it spirals. If you do feel that you are getting symptoms impacting your wellbeing i.e. you start losing interest in things that you normally have an interest in or you can’t focus, concentrate or feeling very tired, it’s better to see a GP or psychiatrist straight away. The earlier you can start getting treatment for it the quicker you will recover. There is still a stigma and lack of understanding where people don’t want to bring up that they are feeling unwell or anxious and it can often get bad before they will bring it up.
“Collectively as a society, we need to work towards ending that stigma”
Collectively as a society, we need to work towards ending that stigma. I think just an understanding that mental health is like physical health in just that you can sprain your ankle you can sprain your brain as well. You don’t blame yourself for spraining your ankle so you shouldn’t blame yourself for having mental health issues. It’s sometimes very difficult to understand what a mental health issue is until you go through it, but I think lockdown has shown a lot of people glimpses of what mental health issues can be. We need to ride that and use that as an impetus to now start removing the stigma.
What challenges have you faced when creating MindHug?
We have faced the usual start-up challenges! So, getting the right people, product development, getting funding. I think all of these challenges are there for any start-up but I do feel to some extent that there are positives to come out of COVID for mental health and also lots of challenges. From a positive perspective there is more investment going into mental wellbeing and that’s great but at the same time there’s a lot more competition for it as well.
Some of these companies have come out of nowhere without any research and are just offering a solution because COVID dictates that they need a solution. I would say that by all means explore other services, and while I would love for people to use MindHug the truth of the matter is I’m very happy when people are focusing on mental wellbeing more generally. But I would say be careful about who you use and what services you are using. Because mental wellbeing is a very sensitive area and you’re dealing with very sensitive issues.
What future developments would you like to see with MindHug?
We actually see ourselves as a mental health innovation company, we don’t actually see ourselves as a platform, and we don’t actually see ourselves as just an app. We will go where the evidence and the need takes us. The evidence and the need could take us down a technological route, a pharmaceutical route or it can take us down a therapeutical route. We are open to all of these avenues.
We believe that mental wellbeing innovation is very behind on the innovation curve and we want to bring innovation to the fore. Whether that’s new technologies, wearables, biomarkers to potentially looking at artificial intelligence, VR or AR based therapies. We’re going to look into all of these.
Whats the best advice anyone has ever given you?
I have received a lot of good advice, but something recent that comes to mind was something I saw on Americas Got Talent the other day. There was a singer called Nightbirde who has suffered from cancer. She said something that really stuck in my mind which was “You Can’t Wait Until Life Isn’t Hard Anymore before You Decide to Be Happy”. Things will be hard, but you can work at improving wellbeing. I agree that when the going is tough it can impact mental wellbeing.
That’s why at MindHug we say we want to illuminate the path to happiness and wellbeing for everyone. We want to help people on that journey because we realise that it’s difficult when you are struggling mentally – and we want to be there to support people in finding that wellbeing and happiness.
How to contact us
You can contact us here at Menlo Park, by calling 0113 468 9230 to speak to our friendly team. We can help if you are looking for a new role, or if you are wanting to recruit to your new start up. We will listen to your needs and find you the perfect job or candidate!
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