This India-Made App Is Helping LGBTQIA+ Youth Improve Their Mental Health
What do we know about the mental health of LGBTQIA+ individuals in India? A review that looked at queer-centric research from 2009 to 2019 in India found that LGBTQIA+ community has high rates of mental health concerns, owing to a variety of factors including identity formation, disclosure, and social acceptance among many.
Access to mental health resources is considered a key problem for LGBTQIA+ individuals. Now, an app called Evolve is trying to change that. To help sexual minorities in India and the world deal with the primary challenges of "embracing your sexuality" and "coming out to loved ones," Evolve offers specially curated content.
What is Evolve?
The app's content is based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) - a type of treatment that intends to identify and change underlying thought patterns.
When you log in to the app, it creates a profile based on your age, gender, and sexuality. Once you're in, the app has five sections - a daily curated feed along with options for therapy, meditation, sleep, and journalling.
I tried a breathing exercise on Evolve and it was surprisingly effective. A man's voice guided my breath, urging me to "count in my mind." In the therapy arena, their self-help sessions focus on a range of topics to improve one's mental well-being and understanding one's identity.
Most sessions are short and are spread over a pre-decided timeline. For LGBTQIA+ individuals, Evolve's therapy sessions focus on coming out to loved ones, dealing with homophobia at home, and changing one's attitude.
What led to Evolve?
This Pride month, we caught up with Evolve's co-founder Anshul Kamath to understand the app's philosophy better. "The inspiration for Evolve goes back to 2017 when I started a passion project to help people with their mental health," Kamath told us.
"From college students to CEOs, I observed one common problem - no one knew how to manage their emotions, particularly their stress and anxiety, which stopped them from growing as individuals and leaders," Kamath said. And that's when it hit him! "I saw the need for an app that was easy to use, accessible to all, and joyful to use. And, that’s how the idea of Evolve was born. The word ‘evolve’ signifies that all of us are on our individuals journeys towards better well-being and no matter where we reach, there is always room to keep improving."
During Pride Month last year, Evolve realised that members of the LGBTQIA+ community were "naturally gravitating" towards the app. "The LGBTQ+ community is the most underserved segment in the mental health market in terms of their propensity to seek solutions versus the availability of products or apps that actually address their needs," Kamath said.
"There is a big gap between the mental health needs of members of the community and the availability of solutions. For example, even when it comes to therapists - many therapists are not trained to understand the issues people from the community go through. The number of queer-affirmative therapists where people can feel completely safe and open up is extremely low. The same way, when it comes to digital mental health platforms and apps - most solutions are heteronormative and not catered to the subtler needs of members of the community," Kamath added.
Changing the discourse from quick dating to mental health
"The more we spoke to members of the community, we realised how different and underserved their needs were," Kamath said. Most apps that cater to the LGBTQIA+ community are focused on quick dating. In the world of Grindr, Tinder, and the likes, Evolve feels like a breath of fresh air. And while providing resources to help people come out is noble in itself, there are always chances for things to go awry. Lack of family support, or worse, the risk of destitution, put LGBTQIA+ folk who come out at risk.
Is Evolve doing anything to provide additional assistance? Well - yes and no! While there are no provisions to assist people once the deed is done, Kamath says that "[they] recommend to [users] that it might not be the right time because personal safety is the most important" in situations where things could go south quickly. Although it's unclear how this is measured, but they're figuring it out. "Part of our roadmap includes building collective safe spaces on Evolve where members of the community can support each other as well."
The LGBTQIA+ connect was purely coincidental, for Evolve's creators started out to create a general well-being app, "After a year, we wanted to find focus as an organisation and one of the biggest trends we noticed thanks to Google Play was the need for mental health in the LGBTQ+ community," Kamath told us.
How involved is the LGBTQIA+ community? "We also involve stakeholders from the community (experts and users
from around the world) to co-create content and experiment with new features on Evolve. It’s extremely
important to have this representation for us as we expand and grow," Kamath said.
Evolve is available to download on Google Play Store and Apple App Store. "Evolve is one of the featured apps on Google Play to celebrate Pride month in India this year which is very special for us," Kamath said while adding that the app is part of a cohort of 100 startups that are being trained as part of Appscale Academy, an initiative by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) Startup hub and Google.
Currently, the app has close to 200,000 users globally with a strong focus on the LGBTQIA+ community. "We see India and North America as our leading markets. Together, these account for close to 80% of our users and the rest are users from over 100 different countries," Kamath told Indiatimes. Half of the app is currently free to use, and its founders claim that all LGBTQIA+ content is part of the free tier. The premium tier "Evolve Plus" costs ₹400 a month or ₹999 for a yearly price.
Disclaimer: While apps like Evolve are an excellent assistive tool to keep track of your goals in real-time, we urge you to reach out to licensed professionals if you need help. You can also reach out to Naz Foundation at 8800329176 or 01147504630 between 10 am to 4 pm and Smiling Rainbow LGBTQ Helpline at +917890893166.
PS: Happy Pride Month! 🏳️🌈🌈