Kanika Agarwal’s journey has been a roller coaster of experiences, challenges, and learnings.
Now 28, she was still in her second year of engineering when she began working at Google as a digital consultant.
She later went on to serve as the Consumer & Corporate Communications Executive at Microsoft, Senior Digital Project Manager at Vocanic, and Growth hacking Advisor at Southeast Asia's only same-day, last mile delivery service for eCommerce businesses, RaRa Delivery. And before long, bitten by the entrepreneurial bug herself, she ended up taking the startup route.
Her first venture, a digital agency called Passion Peers, was conceptualized when Kanika was all of 24. It was based out of Singapore, with an office in India, and a turnover of $2 million in just the second year of its commencement.
But, despite scaling new heights every month, the gruelling work she was putting into her business was slowly eating up her peace of mind.
“I overworked myself to the extent that I started getting panic attacks and anxiety regularly in 2017,” she recalls. She knew, the immediate need for her was to seek professional help. “But finding someone good who could specifically cater to my requirements was difficult,” she says.
Surviving a panic attack
In 2018, Kanika had an episode that changed her life.
She thought she was having a heart attack, and rushed to the emergency ward for immediate medical attention. It was only after she reached the hospital that she discovered that she had actually mistaken a panic attack for a heart attack. The episode, caused by work burnout and a quiet battle with anxiety over time, triggered something in her. Kanika became more vigilant and careful about her mental health since that day.
“I would never wish for anyone in this world to go through what I experienced,” she says, “because re-wiring our mind to feel better is a daunting process as compared to taking care of the body.”
It was a reality check of sorts for the young entrepreneur. Although she was fortunate enough to have found a strong support system in her friends and family, she says, she’s aware that most people struggle to even express what they are going through.
“We have clients whose family and friends don’t support it and they have to deal with it alone. I wonder, would they behave similarly if the person had to be admitted to a hospital for a physical injury?” questions Kanika.
Why mental health matters
Are we doing enough to destigmatise conversations on mental health? If yes, how real are these conversations? And where are we still lacking?
Kanika poses some of these gaps as she fields questions on the topic of mental health in India. “We need to talk with authenticity and realness when it comes to mental health, and not just be a part of [the conversation] because everyone is talking about it,” she suggests. The entrepreneur even highlights the recent wave of headlines that took over social media after the death of Bollywood star Sushant Singh Rajput, driving home her point.
“Just because he was a celebrity, India suddenly woke up to the call of mental health. But have we ever wondered what actually makes us the country with the highest suicide rate among 18-25yrs olds?” she asks.
Kanika’s stats are backed by data. According to a report released last year, the World Health Organization pegged the suicide rate in India the highest in South-East Asian region. Sri Lanka came second, followed by Thailand.
It is a grim reality out there. Now more than ever, the conversation on mental health and well being demands our undivided attention. And it’s not just enough to encourage people to seek help; therapy and counselling need to be made affordable and accessible too.
Besides human intervention, quips Kanika, tech needs to be utilised to provide personalized therapeutic techniques/recommendations in the long term to help individuals independently take care of their mental wellness for lifetime.
And this is where her second entrepreneurial venture comes into the picture.
How MindPeers is making a difference
Kanika founded MindPeers - a health tech platform helping people access the best clinical mental health doctors at the most affordable prices – in January 2020.
And in just five months since the inception, the platform has already “become the top emerging mental health platform in the country,” claims its founder. A feat that has largely been possible because of three differentiating factors:
- Focus on affordability
- Quality and standardisation
- Focus on the workforce
“We are the only ones who are focusing on the workforce of all kinds. We provide holistic business to business solutions that are measurable and can significantly cut down healthcare costs,” says Kanika, adding, “Our tech offering and our services like workshops, personalized toolkits, therapy interventions etc allow [schools and corporates] to correlate individual behavioural data and progress and also give post therapy self-care activities.”
“We also have an India-wide campaign called MindPeersAtWork which we have launched to spread further advocacy among organizations,” she adds.
For Kanika, advocating mental health through MindPeers and in her personal capacity might be a small step in the right direction. But it marks a significant leap in initiating a dialogue on the issue, which is often like a dirty scandal swept under the rug.
(Edited by Athira Nair)