Over the past couple of years, Utkarsh has watched so many of his friends and loved ones struggle with their mental health. In his home country of India, the lack of institutional resources and the shame associated with seeking mental health treatment only worsened these problems. With new inspiration from a few of his Kellogg classes, he traveled to India to visit local hospitals, hear directly from providers and patients, and learn more about opportunities to improve the mental healthcare system. This is his Inspiration Grant story.
What sparked my interest in mental health, particularly in India, were different instances across like the last two, three years, starting with Covid, and all the stress around firings and other things. Every second person I talked to was facing some kind of stress, and as I would learn, there's different levels of mental health issues that a person faces across the spectrum and every second person needed some kind of support. Most of them at least, were not reaching out for that.
If I give a few examples, there was a friend who was working in consulting and there was a time during the pandemic where he couldn't open the laptop because of the stress that was induced every time he opened the laptop. Across that cycle, he never reached out to someone. Personally seeing that, it felt like there's a very clear human need beyond even a business need to solve this and this goes across income levels, age levels, et cetera. And there is a very clear need that it needs to be solved very quickly in emerging economies if we need our workforce to be as efficient, as happy as possible.
When I was sitting in the waiting rooms of these psychiatrists and psychologists, what I saw is a palpable guilt or tension between the people sitting here. If you are sitting in a hospital where there are four or five doctors across various departments, the psychiatry department would not have patients talking to each other. They'll be sitting in a way that there's a palpable guilt that they're there, which was something I didn't expect to notice, even though I knew the problem around it, I didn't think it would be so evident even in a hospital waiting room.
What I learned there was everyone in this system also knows of the problem, like every psychologist or psychiatrist were sharing ideas so everyone in the system knows of the issue, at least in the mental health system, and there's no real solution that has been presented to them. At society level, they're trying to make changes, there are talks that are held, but the society level change is like a 20, 30 year change. Something that could break that in a faster way at an individual level is something that has never been done, and that's my biggest takeaway, that a solution needs to be formed.
I have some initial insights on how to break this taboo. I'm researching how other taboos have broken in India or other countries with similar context. For example, finding online sites for marriage, which was a very difficult topic to break through. So looking at different businesses to figure out how they broke their taboo in completely different fields to get an idea how to reach that point where I have a very solid idea of how this taboo breaks. That's what's next for me, continuing to do that research where I can fill that piece and that's where I can actually have a business opportunity that can be established.
Spending so much time in these waiting rooms, talking to these people, trying to research this topic, I feel a lot more empathetic towards my own mental health and those around me, in the sense of understanding that across the spectrum, you might have signs of mental health issues much earlier, which you are ignoring in yourself and others, and the empathy that you provide there can be a very big factor in them seeking mental health support. When I was sitting in all these places, I felt like there is something I can do at a personal level, regardless of a business opportunity to, at least in my close circle, make sure that this problem becomes a little less.
The Levy Inspiration Grant Program is made possible through the generous support of Larry and Carol Levy and is managed by the Entrepreneurship program at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. To learn more about the Levy Inspiration Grant program and other ways we support student entrepreneurs, visit our website at kellogg.northwestern.edu.