When Sachin Chaudhry was 18 years old in Chandigarh in 1994, his “brilliant” 12-year-old brother suffered from schizophrenia.
The younger boy was “bullied at school” and the family fell into “a negative spiral” due to ignorance and the stigma associated with the condition.
There was nowhere to turn for help or support, he remembers.
“We would wait for two hours, three hours and longer (at clinics and hospitals) for help. We had no other option but to talk to other patients and their families (with similar mental problems),” he told India-West.
“Initially, they were not willing to share their problems or personal stories,” but after breaking through to them, “there was a sigh of relief” when families realized that there were others who could understand what they were experiencing, he added.
“My entire teenage years were spent around my brother, trying to do something for him,” Chaudhry said. “He was misdiagnosed. There was no need for him to be put on medications.”
Chaudhry’s background led him to co-found TrustCircle, a for-profit company that provides a “peer-centered mental health network for consumers, caregivers and healthcare providers.”
Linda Stalters, executive director of Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America, is quoted on the Web site (www.trustcircle.co) as saying that TrustCircle “has made great progress in a very short time and has received support in their efforts from NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), SARDAA, PsychCongress, the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University.”
The World Health Organization and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine’s Centre of Global Mental Health included TrustCircle in a Mental Health Innovation Network that debuted at the World Health Innovation Summit in 2013.
In addition, at the 2012-2013 Wharton Business Plan Competition at the University of Pennsylvania, TrustCircle won a $1,000 committee award for being the “Most Social Venture.”
One of TrustCircle’s advisors is Matcheri Keshavan, vice-chair for public psychiatry at the Beth Israel Deaconess medical center, at the Harvard Medical School, and editor in chief of the Asian Journal of Psychiatry.
More than 150 caregivers have signed up in the network, Chaudhry told India-West. “Everybody can sign up for free,” he added.
“TrustCircle hopes to have 30,000 peers and caregivers and 500 healthcare providers by the end 2014.
“It has all been extremely motivating and inspiring,” said the Indian American TrustCircle CEO, who has a bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering from the National Institute of Technology and an MBA from The Wharton School.
He operates the company from a garage in San Ramon, Calif. TrustCircle is focused on providing “access to a trustworthy community of support,” “access to the best mental health professionals,” and giving those seeking help the chance to ask questions and share knowledge about mental health issues.
Future plans include allowing members to track their health history in a secure and health-compliant environment, book psychiatric appointments and participate in Web-based psychiatric sessions.
“There are other discussion forums, but nothing in real time” where those seeking mental health assistance can speak directly to mental health professionals. “There is nothing that connects these two communities,” he said.
Chaudhry has bootstrapped the company and is seeking additional funding, but he only wants like-minded investors who see the need for helping those who don’t know where to turn when faced with mental illness in their families. “I don’t want dumb money,” he said.