A mental health chatbot has hit almost two million downloads globally following a huge spike in anxiety during the fight against COVID-19.

London-based Wysa is the number one app for stress and anxiety recommended by NHS evaluator ORCHA. It collaborates with a number of global companies and is recommended by several NHS trusts.

The ‘emotionally intelligent’ app converses with users by analysing their text through AI. It contains dozens of separate ‘models’ to approach people suffering from a variety of problems in the most appropriate way – from depression to less serious situations such as low self-esteem.

It uses evidence-based cognitive-behavioural techniques, dialectical behaviour therapy, meditation, breathing, yoga, motivational interviewing and micro-actions to help people build mental resilience skills and feel better.

Wysa saw a 77 per cent spike in new users in February and March compared with the same period last year. Every person turning to the platform has reached it through word-of-mouth recommendations, without a penny of advertising spend to date.

“We’ve seen a massive increase in the amount of conversations mentioning themes like anxiety, worry and COVID,” CEO Jo Aggarwal told BusinessCloud during Mental Health Awareness Week.

“The Office for National Statistics found 25 million people in the UK reported high levels of anxiety during March and we are definitely seeing that reflected in our users.

“There has been a big increase in general anxiety levels as a results of the worry caused by the virus but we are also seeing spikes in specific worries such as relationship strain, finance worry, health worries and loneliness. With the loss of routine experienced by many, sleep issues also become more prevalent as uncertainty becomes the new normal.

“Wysa has always grown organically through word of mouth – our reputation with our users is our proudest achievement. To be recommended by ORCHA and the NHS has naturally helped us reach more people and word has spread.”

Aggarwal, who suffered from depression herself, explained to BusinessCloud in 2018 how the tech was originally intended to detect depression using basic smartphone sensor technology.

However it pivoted to a chatbot-based support model when she realised it would merely “create a wave of [people who would be prescribed] anti-depressants”.

The app is free to use but the company creates revenue from its premium ‘coach service’, which provides access to human coaches.

Wysa recently partnered with online pharmacy Pharmacy2U to help people across the country access mental health support during these challenging times.

Pharmacy2U, the UK’s largest online pharmacy service, has made Wysa available for free to its registered patients. People that use the service to order repeat prescriptions will have access to Wysa Premium for free, with the option to upgrade to one-to-one psychologist appointments.

“With COVID there has had to be a rapid movement to introduce more digital solutions to mental health,” continued Aggarwal.

“What this has really shown governments though is the essential need for people to have access to universal mental health services to support preventative wellbeing and these can be most effectively scaled through digital.

“I spoke with Pharmacy2U about the potential for a collaboration to support the holistic health of their patients. Pharmacy2U’s progressive approach to supporting patients to access their prescriptions more easily meant it was the perfect opportunity to team up and have these innovations work together.

“We started this relationship before COVID-19 came about but with the current restrictions and impact on health and wellbeing, the partnership feels more important than ever.”

Dr Nitin, a Pharmacy2U and NHS GP, added: “Mental health support is extremely important in maintaining a balanced lifestyle, both mentally and physically.

“In these testing times, we can be overloaded with information from the news cycle, from social media and from family and friends. By partnering with Wysa in time for Mental Health Awareness Week, we hope we can provide real impact and help our patients maintain a healthy mental wellbeing.”