Talking to someone can help bring us relief during these difficult times. As we try to cope with a pandemic on top of our personal problems, our day-to-day struggles may start to feel more overwhelming. Who do you turn to when you’re having a bad moment?
We can either turn to our family and friends, or go see a therapist, but as available as these options might seem – they aren’t always accessible. Opening up to your family and friends can be discouraging if they don’t understand you, judge you, or provide you with biased feedback. Therapy doesn’t fit into everyone’s budget or schedule, and many are afraid to seek help.
This is where the PlusVibes app comes in with anonymity and free emotional support. It offers users a safe space to talk about their feelings, without the fear of being judged, and always provides someone to listen. We spoke to founder, Madiha Fuad, about the first all-in-one platform for mental health and wellbeing, and how it’s destigmatising mental health in Malaysia:
What is PlusVibes?
PlusVibes is an all-in-one platform that provides various types of support and motivation, which includes connecting you to NGOs, mental health clinics and associations.
What are the main features?
- Wheel of Life – a tool that helps you visualise all the important areas of your life at once. Upon signing up, you are required to rate all the areas in your life from satisfactory to least satisfactory – this will then translate into a carefully curated Explore Page that features helpful articles, quotes and videos that focus on guiding you with ways to deal with specific areas in your life that you may need help with.
- Relaxation Activities – including Yoga / Meditation / Zumba videos, Short Exercises, Sound Wave Therapy, Peaceful Soundtracks, Anxiety Relief Techniques and Calming Voiceovers which comprises top viewed guidance videos that can help you stay healthy and achieve a state of calmness.
- Talk to Someone – start a conversation with a mental health professional, qualified listeners and even mental health associations that we are partnered with, with the intention of providing easy access for everyone to seek the help that they need without having to leave their homes.
What makes PlusVibes different?
We offer a free platform for the mass market, access to counsellors and advisors without the expensive clinic fees, and offer anonymity for users to encourage open communication. Our aim is to break the cultural stigma, and create a community that empowers, as well as understands one another.
What pushed you to start PlusVibes?
In 2019, I was running a few businesses and I was pursuing my PhD. It was a high time and a positive chapter in my life. But this turned around in 2020, when I was diagnosed with a damaged long thoracic nerve. It affected my ability to work and worst of all, I was constantly on nerve medication and painkillers, and it was MCO. So how does one have a positive mindset in that situation? Where physical limitation affected and put every aspect of my life at risk. It was during this time that I truly understood what depression and anxiety meant, and how it could easily affect your happiness and productivity. I was struggling to cope with nerve pain, but my struggles were not visible to the public eye – life still went on and I still had commitments. (On that note, I feel like most people can relate to this – having a silent struggle where people assume you are okay.)
As someone who is not able to open up emotionally, as I have always been an independent person, those times were the toughest. I realised that bottling emotions was severely affecting my health and mental health. My only source of motivation were the articles and videos that I would search up online to keep my feelings at bay, but it took a lot of effort (Google, YouTube, Flipboard). I had to go on different platforms to search for motivational content. On top of that, I had to search for counsellors, and I could only contact ones that were available through calls due to my physical limitation.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit globally, I realised that it impacted and put a higher percentage of people in emotional distress, and I could easily relate to that – which is why I decided that this is the best time to create a platform where people from all walks of life, who are going through the same struggles, can find support and motivation.
As there is still a stigma surrounding mental health in Malaysia, how popular has virtual therapy been?
The app has been on the App Store and Google Play Store for a little over 3 months now (since it first became available for download in the beginning of October), and to date, we have gotten 5,500 active users with up to 200 Chat Requests per day. Users are encouraged to rate the chat sessions, and the feedback has been very positive with our overall chat rating being 4.7 out of 5.
Based on our data, we’ve learned that the ‘Talk to Someone’ feature has been the users’ go-to as they find it much more convenient to now be able to express themselves freely and comfortably as their identity is kept 100% anonymous.
Majority of our users are aged between 13 – 22, which means they may not necessarily have the financial means to attend paid sessions with mental health professionals. Virtual chat sessions on our app with the Vibers (qualified listeners / counsellors / therapists) has been a great solution in catering to their need for emotional support, especially with the current pandemic and restrictions.
Are people still afraid to open up even though their identity is kept anonymous?
As both users and Vibers identities are kept hidden, we realise that this has actually encouraged people to open up easier as they do not have to worry about preconceived notions being formed based on their background, race, or even sexuality.
For those who are used to receiving in-person support, did they find it harder to express themselves online?
This was an initial concern, however throughout the pandemic, with the limitation of on-site sessions and having to resort to online-basis counselling / therapy, we’ve learned that this has actually been a more convenient avenue – especially for the youth as most of them prefer a more technological approach since everyone is dependent on their mobile phones. Being able to express themselves online actually provides easier access to those who are in need of help as they are able to get the support they need remotely.
What else can be done to encourage people to seek the help they need?
Destigmatising mental health has been quite a recent effort in Malaysia, therefore we understand that it will take some time for people to perceive mental health as a norm, and that it is equally as important as physical health. At this point of time, we believe it is important to educate society and create awareness so that all generations from all walks of life would have a good understanding on this matter.
We also believe that when public figures, celebrities or influencers open up about their mental conditions – it carries weight in making the community feel that they are not alone in what they go through or how they feel. This would hopefully help encourage people to seek help for their mental wellbeing the same way they would go to a clinic when they are feeling sick.
How can one volunteer as a Viber?
We are on a constant lookout for more volunteers to join us as Vibers! This would be a great opportunity for Psychology / Counselling graduates to contribute to the community as a shoulder to lean on, and to gain firsthand working experience as a listener. Those who are qualified and interested are welcome to apply as a Viber here.
As a society, what can we do to maintain this mental health culture after the pandemic is over?
We believe that it is important to incorporate mental health learning / programmes into our education system to educate the youth from a young age on mental health, so that this will no longer be a taboo topic in the future.
It is also important to continuously create awareness and have more talk shows / publications that would highlight this subject in order to broaden the knowledge of the society.
What else does PlusVibes do?
We are currently working on a program to highlight the importance of mental health amongst adolescents called the Mental Resilience Programme, targeting orphanages / children homes, universities and schools. The program includes a comprehensive module that involves motivational talks from eligible speakers, as well as activities and a workbook to guide the participants. We encourage individuals / institutions that would like us to carry out this program for their student body or even employees to reach out to us here.
We also cater to employee’s mental health benefits. Companies are able to gain insight on focus areas, such as financial assistance, childcare, stress management, etc that their employees need assistance in. As for employees, they are able to seek advice anonymously while also focusing on their own self-improvement journey! Interested organisations may contact us here.