A publication by the University of Dhaka reports that around 1,200 to 1,800 students graduate in Psychology every year, but only 2% of them work in this field.
In effect, the number of clinical psychologists and counselling psychologists in Bangladesh paints a bleak picture of this profession. It stood at 195 in 2020, according to the National Institute of Mental Health and Hospital, which essentially means there is only one psychologist for every one million citizens.
In a country like ours, where nearly 17% of adults suffer from mental health issues, this statistic is indeed alarming. The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the need for accessible counselling services even further.
By the end of 2020, the pandemic had already wreaked havoc on society and the mental health of people of all ages. This is when Psycure - a non-profit university student-led initiative at the time - started giving out free online counselling sessions, which received an overwhelming response from the masses.
As a result, the workforce of Psycure could not meet the ever-growing demand, so they introduced a new business model and started charging a minimal amount for their services.
A majority of Psycure's clients are young university students, especially Bangladeshi students currently studying abroad. Factors like adjustment, homesickness, work-life balance, etc., affect most young adults, more intensely for those who just moved into a foreign country on their own for education.
"Mental health conditions like depression, anxiety and stress are very common among these students. Relocation makes it more likely for them to become mentally unstable and they have barely any allies there to open up to," said Murad Ansary, founder of Psycure, adding, "Besides, counselling sessions in a first world country are very expensive. As a result, they live in turmoil and often reach out to us."
Psycure promised to keep the counselling sessions affordable for the students as it is a platform formed by students like them and charges Tk1,000 for a typical one-hour counselling session for adults. The same service is Tk900 for students.
Charges may go further down for students who cannot easily afford the sessions. The premium therapy session conducted by psychologists with more than eight years of experience in the field is charged Tk1,500.
Apart from personal counselling, Psycure also offers couples counselling, family counselling, group counselling, etc. Career counselling is also available for students who are unsure about how to navigate their careers and life after graduation.
Ansary said, "I believe our services are impactful and promising. That is why we have more recurring clients than new clients. People who have taken our services trust us and continue the sessions."
To date, around 2,700 people have availed of Psycure's services. More than 11,000 people have participated in Psycure's training programmes all over the country. The Psycure team now has 15 enlisted psychologists.
They even set up an office at Banani in the capital. As of now, the key constraint of this startup is the absence of a dedicated app, which is why the entire process of availing the service has to be done manually.
"In the present procedure, a representative of Psycure works as a mediator between the client and the service giver. As a result, anonymity is breached to some extent," Ansary said.
The sessions are conducted via Zoom or WhatsApp. After the counselling sessions, the clients are given different assignments, which they also have to submit through those platforms. For providing better and hassle-free services, Psycure is developing an app module which will be available from June this year.
Since its inception, Psycure has been praised by the public and received various prestigious awards for extraordinary contributions to promoting Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) via the internet.
In 2020, Ansary received the Joy Bangla Youth Award for Psycure, followed by the Young Global Changemaker Award. In the same year, Psycure participated in the BIG (Bangabandhu Innovation Grant).
Psycure recently won an award from Youth Co:Lab, a project jointly led by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Citi Foundation.
Murad Ansary, a student of Clinical Psychology at Rajshahi University (RU), recognised the gravity of the country's alarming statistics of one available psychologist for every one million people when he was just a sophomore. And so he began to look out for ways to make this profession sustainable for the students.
In general, the lack of practice opportunities and the inadequacy of healthy workplaces discourage young graduates from pursuing it as a job. Thus, Ansary wanted to build a close-knit platform for undergraduates and professionals, which would be open to new ideas and offer more opportunities.
In 2019, Ansary formed an intra-university psychology club named "Psycure." The club is organised and maintained by a combination of youths and professionals.
The club started with the goal to provide skill development training for the undergrad psychology and clinical psychology students at RU and mostly focused on the activation part at the time.
Psycure performs specific area-based workshops and one-on-one sessions. Along with these, mindfulness, meditation, skill development and coping strategies and management tactics such as stress and anger management classes are also frequently held.
The purpose of the sessions is to bring people's sufferings pertaining to mental health to light. But everything got stalled with the arrival of Covid-19.
However, at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and because of its reeling effects on the human mind, Psycure recognised a heightened demand for accessible counselling services. So the club started expanding its horizon.
The Psycure team started conducting workshops at other universities. More and more people started believing in this club and joined in. And eventually, evolved into a non-profit organisation that offers counselling services for the masses.
In the backdrop of our country's stance on mental health illness, how it is considered less of a disease and more of a disgrace. Not only do people refuse to talk about it, but they also tend to hide it as if it is something despicable, Ansary added, "Given our socio-economic backdrop, awareness is a crying need. We need to normalise talking about mental health issues and seeking help for it."
This is why Ansary explained, Psycure first started with activation campaigns, which have successfully evolved into a bigger team and served nearly 27,000 people to date.
Co-created in 2017 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Citi Foundation, Youth Co:Lab aims to establish a common agenda for Asia-Pacific countries to invest in and empower youth to accelerate implementation of the SDGs through leadership, social innovation and entrepreneurship. The Springboard Programme of Youth Co:Lab Bangladesh is a platform for young social entrepreneurs to contribute towards achieving the SDGs through tailored mentorship and wide-ranging national and global networking opportunities.