Mental health services platform Ibunda wants to keep expanding its reach

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Since its founding in 2015, the Indonesian startup Ibunda has provided psychological consultations to over 200,000 clients


Although more Indonesians are starting to understand the importance of mental well-being and the reality of psychological disorders, stigma and lack of information still make getting help a challenge for many. is one of the country's earliest online therapy platforms focusing on mental health, and provides an outlet for many Indonesians struggling with psychological issues of all kinds. Today it’s still a leader in the field, through its offline activities and collaborations that help maintain its ties with existing clients while reaching out to new ones.

Launched in 2015, Ibunda, has so far provided psychological support to more than 200,000 patients throughout Indonesia. Operating from an affluent and busy area in Jakarta, the startup has grown its team to about 200 people, including over 70 mental health consultants and licensed clinical psychologists. Ibunda's biggest year so far was 2019 when its number of users increased 2.5 times from the year before, and the platform correspondingly recruited more psychologists. That also gave the company the opportunity to offer more offline services, including therapy in clinics and consultation tents in public spaces, beyond Jakarta in Tangerang, Bandung, Surabaya, Jogjakarta and Solo. 

Ibunda, which is a particularly affectionate Indonesian term for “mother,” was founded by CEO Noor Chita Mawardi, who earned her bachelor's degree in psychology from Pelita Harapan University in Jakarta. She was also President of the Youth Community for Human Rights Indonesia from 2015 to 2017.

The idea for Ibunda had come to Mawardi in 2015 when she befriended Arif Saputra, then a computer science and business management undergraduate, who had lived with mental health issues for years. Saputra, who would go on to become Ibunda's CTO, had shared with Mawardi the challenges of getting the right kind of psychological help. These challenges were either due to the stigma surrounding people with mental health difficulties or the lack of valid information regarding these challenges and where to find appropriate help.

Mawardi understood at once. In her experience, academically and personally, mental health workers faced massive obstacles in reaching the people who require help because of the same problems Saputra had faced.

“It was also during that time, from 2014 to 2015, that a social media trend called 'No mentions mentions' had people venting all of their feelings online,” Mawardi said in an interview. “We saw how people's problems were never-ending, and that it would be better if those people [venting online] talked to the right people – mental health practitioners.”

Unique online-offline approach

The initial idea the pair had was an online platform where people with psychological issues could talk to professionals and semi-professionals from Mawardi's network, and ask for help anonymously without any fear of being shamed. And so Ibunda began as a “simple blog,” Mawardi said, but it quickly gained a good reputation, attracting 100 to 150 followers after the first six months. 

Central to Ibunda’s success is the wide psychological and emotional net it casts. The startup addresses all kinds of mental health challenges – from shyness and heartbreak to depression and addictions. It employs two main advisors, psychiatrist Jiemi Ardian and psychologist Indira Primasari, who holds a master's in psychology and is a PhD candidate at the Center of Psychological Trauma, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam. 

Ibunda's main consultation platform is free and online, with a similar mode of operation as that of its competitors. Users can begin chatting with consultants by sending text messages to a WhatsApp number that is available on the company's website before moving onto Ibunda's official LINE number for a longer conversation. This free counseling service sees an average of 400 to 500 users per day. Unlike in a conventional session, consultants – both professionals and volunteers – are not allowed to prescribe medication.

Ibunda also offers in-person consultations for users whom the online consultants have assessed would benefit from a face-to-face session with a psychologist or psychiatrist. Users have to pay for these in-person consultations that are essentially conventional therapy sessions.

Aside from the 70 or so licensed clinical psychologists employed by Ibunda, some of the in-person consultations are with “Bunda Superstars”: consultants who have completed either a bachelor's or a master's degree in psychology, but have not yet obtained their licenses to practice from the Indonesian Psychologists Association. Patients are aware of this.

Ibunda's online-to-offline approach has done them well, but the anonymity and practicality of online consultations still make it the more popular platform, Mawardi said.

“Online consulting has also benefited psychologists by enriching their experience and first-hand knowledge of theories related to the field of telehealth,” she added.

Expanding the cause

Ibunda actively runs a variety of events related to mental health in cities across Indonesia. This has been one of the keys to not only getting its name out there, but building a brand that people trust, which plays a central role in the context of the mental health service the company provides.

The month of CompassList's interview with Mawardi, Ibunda representatives took part in four events, including a workshop by Ruang Dengar (Listening Room in the Indonesian language), a community in Semarang, West Java, that promotes mental health awareness as well as openness and sharing through its podcast. Mawardi herself often takes part in mental health-related panels and events, including as a jury member at the latest “Ideation Program” competition in 2019, where university students presented on the topic of self-harm.

“In partnership with the government of Bandung, West Java, we've started a program called Kekasih Juara (Champion Romantic Partner in the Indonesian language)”, said Mawardi. As part of the program, a  tent and a big vehicle was set up in two popular areas in the city for those needing to talk to Ibunda's psychologists and psychiatrists. Ibunda representatives also promoted its online platform to Bandung residents during the event.

Most recently, Ibunda published a book titled “I (Hate) Love Me”, which is meant for teenagers facing emotional and psychological issues. Written by four of Ibunda's team members, Salsabila Ainurrohman, Esterina Angelica Kristanto, Andre Anggawijaya and Bianda Retno Widyani, the book is based on their encounters with teens via the Ibunda platform. They are also working on a project with the National Brain Center Hospital in Jakarta. 

Perhaps Ibunda's most-publicized activity so far has been its partnership – through its parent company, PT Ardhia Multi Parama – with the local Jakarta government to launch a mental health app in January 2019: E-Jiwa for the early detection of mental health issues through a self-assessment quiz.  

The market for online psychological therapy in Indonesia has also seen more new entrants. For Mawardi, the key is to stay focused on Ibunda’s goal: keep expanding its reach to reach more people who would need its support.

“It is important for us to continue collaborating with the government, mental health institutions, various related communities, as well as brand and private sectors to promote mental health," she said. “We are aware that the more movement we make, the more awareness we will spread about these issues.”

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Edited by Celine Lim, Bernice Tang

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