More Indonesians seeking online help for mental health issues amid social stigma and shortage of psychologists

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SURABAYA, Indonesia: IT engineer Audrey Maximilian Herli was studying at one of Indonesia’s top universities in Surabaya in 2015 when he discovered that a close female friend had been struggling silently with a litany of personal problems and traumas.

In a desperate cry for help, Mr Herli’s friend turned to social media to vent her frustration, only to be dismissed as attention seeker and bullied by her peers and random online commenters, sending her further in a state of depression.

To Mr Herli’s horror, his friend resorted to harming herself to cope with the flood of emotions she felt.

He thought long and hard on how to help her friend but soon realised that people with mental health problems often faced stigmatisation and discrimination in Indonesia.

Mr Herli said this explained partly why his friend had never sought professional help, adding that she has since got better.

“(People with mental health problems) need to have access to professionals who can direct their problem into something positive without the fear of being preached, judged, mocked or have their secrets revealed,” the 30-year-old told CNA.

It is one reason why he co-founded mental health platform Riliv in 2015, which is among nine that has surfaced in Indonesia in recent years, including Bicarakan.id in 2019 and Psikologimu in 2020.

The three companies have given hundreds of thousands of Indonesians, including those living in remote areas where the nearest therapists can be dozens of kilometres away, access to mental health professionals.

The founders of these three platforms, which include apps and websites for users, told CNA that they believed technology could overcome both Indonesia’s low mental health awareness and scarcity of mental health professionals, by providing online consultations as well as other mental wellness services.

Riliv is a play on the Indonesian pronunciation of the word “relief”, Bicarakan means “talk about it” while Psikologimu means “your psychology”.

A personal experience also led Bicarakan.id founder Andreas Handini to set up his platform.

For years, he was struggling to cope with a series of childhood trauma which manifested themselves as nightmares and a sense of bitterness towards the world around him.

But he finally managed to control his emotions after going to therapy for six months in 2019.

“I personally felt the benefit of going to a psychologist and I was bent on rallying others to do the same,” Mr Handini, 25 told CNA.

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