Cara Cara: Helping calm the most anxious generation

This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on December 28, 2020 - January 10, 2021.
The four therapists of Cara Cara Mental Fitness — (clockwise from top left) Sara Au, Rohini Krishnan, Ng and Lee

The four therapists of Cara Cara Mental Fitness — (clockwise from top left) Sara Au, Rohini Krishnan, Ng and Lee

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Millennials have been called the most anxious generation. Economic uncertainty, the consequences of rapid technological development and, now, Covid-19, have left many from this generation grappling with mental health issues.

In June, four millennials who are registered and licensed counsellors came together to address this issue. They set up a collaborative outfit called Cara Cara Mental Fitness as a way to share resources and offer affordable therapy sessions to Malaysians, with a focus on young professionals.

“We knew each other from attending the same master’s programme in counselling at Monash University. We realised that we share the same values. We wanted to make mental health affordable, relatable and accessible. As millennials, we can definitely relate to the struggles of our generation,” says Ng Phuay Yee, one of Cara Cara’s therapists (a general term for counsellors).

“We want to be part of the solution. Often­times, when we talk about mental health, people associate it with mental illness. But that’s not what we want to do. We don’t want to just focus on the disease. We want to focus on improvement, growth and mental strength of the individual.”

The four actually had the idea of starting Cara Cara before the pandemic, The launch proved to be timely when they realised there was an increase in demand for and awareness of mental health services because of the pandemic. 

 

“It’s not that these things were unknown before this. It’s just more visible now, as more people are being affected by uncertainties and issues like anxiety, isolation, retrenchment and job loss,” says Ian Lee, another Cara Cara therapist.

“We do see truth in the saying about the millennial generation being the anxiety generation. There is a lot of uncertainty among young people about the future, especially this year. In this environment, what we can really push for is to educate ourselves on mental health.”

They had to quickly take action when the Movement Control Order (MCO) was announced. Fortunately, they were already thinking about running online sessions prior to the pandemic.

“For us to launch the brand and push our plan through during the pandemic is considered a significant milestone. Our focus on affordability is very timely in the light of the pandemic because we can meet the needs of the people during our current economic situation. We don’t want people to have to choose between a meal or good mental health,” says Ng.

They saw an increase in the number of clients during the pandemic, driven by the convenience of online therapy sessions. The shift online is a global trend observed among therapists.

“We use multiple video platforms, all of which have end-to-end encryption. This is quite a big concern that therapists have,” says Lee.

“Online therapy is still relatively new in Malaysia. It was only after the MCO that it became mainstream. But there are certain things in face-to-face sessions that cannot be done in an online session.”

Cara Cara creates bite-sized content on social media to educate the public on mental health

Focusing on affordability and accessibility

At the moment, Cara Cara is offering a package deal of RM480 for six sessions, which works out to RM80 per session. Otherwise, it costs RM120 per session. According to Lee, the average cost of attending a counselling session in a private clinic is more than RM200. “Of course, there are more affordable options offered by non-profit organisations and universities,” he says.

Cara Cara keeps costs low by sharing resources. The four therapists have their own practice, but decided to collaborate through Cara Cara to share a co-working space and marketing resources, among others. They see their clients individually.

This helps keep their costs down. “We want to bring affordability into the industry. Our model is very flexible and we share resources. We prioritise the affordability aspect so more people can access our services,” says Ng.

Cara Cara wants to focus on serving the younger generation, especially young professionals. “We create a lot of content that is bite-sized and relatable to young individuals because everyone has a social media platform. It’s very easy to connect with them that way. We do podcasts, interviews and videos to make ourselves visible, so people can connect to us. Only then can they feel safe to talk about their challenges in mental health and the issues they face,” says Ng.

As general awareness about mental health is still relatively nascent in Malaysia, Cara Cara compiles all the resources available and tailors them to the local audience. It educates the public on mental health and the role of therapists.

“We also talk about what you can do once you know what your mental health issues are. A lot of people are now aware of the issues they face, but they don’t know what they can do to become better,” says Ng.

Therapists do not see only clients who are diagnosed with mental illness, she adds. “You don’t have to be depressed or diagnosed to come for therapy. You can come in and work on personal development or even growth. Let’s say you want to improve on certain things but you don’t know how to get there. We can help you as well.”

That is why the four therapists decided to call their outfit Cara Cara Mental Fitness. Care for mental health should be integrated into one’s daily life routine, the way one incorporates physical exercise.

“It’s just like how people talk about HIIT [high-intensity interval training] and yoga. We want people to talk about mental health the same way. You can talk about mindfulness and affirmation, for instance, which are skills and techniques you can learn from mental health therapy. You can make it part of your lifestyle. That’s what we are hoping to see through Cara Cara,” says Ng.

On the other hand, counsellors do not prescribe medication or provide a diagnosis. If the therapist believes, however, that the client requires those services, they can refer them to clinical psychologists or psychiatrists.

Currently, each Cara Cara therapist has on average 10 to 20 clients per week. Interested individuals can book an appointment with a therapist via the Cara Cara Mental Fitness website.

Cara Cara hopes to expand its team to meet the demand for mental health services, which has increased because of the pandemic.

“We also hope we can have more engagements through programmes to help people develop the necessary skills for professional or personal growth. This can be done via webinars and workshops. When the pandemic eases, we can have more in-person and interactive sessions,” says Ng.

“We also hope to collaborate with more professionals inside or outside of our industry who want to play a role in mental health advocacy, so we can create awareness about mental health in Malaysia.”