By Laura Urrutia

When the world is failing to address growing mental health problems, hope lightens up as an initiative, with a successful track record in India, the United States, Malaysia, and Africa, and the recognition of several international agencies, aims not only to provide a prevention and early intervention solution but also a self-help tool for one billion people by 2040. 

“There will be almost 10 billion people in 2040. If we can't serve even 10% of the world population, we’re not doing enough,” explains Ashoka Fellow Sachin Chaudhry, founder of TrustCircle, an AI-driven social-emotional learning platform that helps foster emotional resilience, prevention, and early interventions for children and young people at scale. 

Just in India, it is estimated that more than 150 million people need mental health care support services but less than 30 million are seeking care. The traditional system of mental health, focused on treating mental disorders as a medical condition that needs to be treated by psychiatrists, fails to recognize the importance of prevention and early interventions in addressing a population-scale mental health crisis. 

The pattern of this health pandemic is reproduced in many societies worldwide and after Covid, the trend has worsened. In the European Union, the share of young people reporting symptoms of depression in several EU countries more than doubled during the pandemic, and the total costs of mental health problems are estimated at around 4% of GDP (more than €600 billion) across the 27 EU countries and the United Kingdom. 

The cause of mental health prevention is close to Sachin’s heart, as his younger brother suffered as a child from a failing mental health system in India. Sachin recalls vividly the terrible experience his brother suffered when he faced mental health challenges and the family and school couldn’t identify his condition nor support him early enough, which resulted in a severe mental disorder. 

“Why were we not hugging him tight enough so that he could open up? Why did his teachers miss those early signs of stress? And why didn’t his friends, who were always around him, pick up those risks? When I started asking these questions, one thing that was very clear was that others were also slipping into this black hole. So that was the foundation of TrustCircle and Sachin’s calling. It was in 1996 when I got that clarity, and I started learning how broken the mental health ecosystem was,” reflects Sachin.  

The scale of the problem in India and his personal experience made Sachin look for alternative impact scale solutions focused on detecting mental health risks and taking action as soon as early symptoms appear and before the situation becomes more serious. Research and several studies, including “The emerging paradigm in mental health” by Ashoka and Rohini Nilekani Philanthropies, document the evidence that early community-based interventions significantly help prevent the progression into severe mental health conditions. 

Sachin sums up his vision in simple words: “The only way to tackle this mental health crisis is to make sure that the demand doesn't grow. That will only happen if you can foster prevention and early intervention and help empower individuals to understand their emotions and how they can take proactive interventions.” 

Distributing the ability to solve  

Sachin’s work is featured in a research report on leveraging platforms for good, carried out by ASPIRe, that has identified key guidelines for projects focused on having a positive impact on society. TrustCircle illustrates the principle of distributing the ability to solve, as its vision represents a significant shift from the current situation where individuals seek mental health help and treatment from professionals only when the symptoms become severe. 

Sachin believes that the three social “bubbles”, or social groups where everyone interacts - personal, academic or professional, and our social circles - are the spaces where roots-of-risks exists. Equipped with his technological background as a Computer Science engineer, Sachin set up TrustCircle, a platform that assesses individuals’ emotional resilience and mental health state over a period of time - instead of at a precise moment as traditional tests do; provides emotional learning tools and reports effectively over a period of time, if there are individuals at risk.  

“TrustCircle gives users - students, individuals, etc., a private and secure space where they express their thoughts, feelings and emotions. When they do that, AI models pick up the patterns of the individual's use of language and particular words to determine spikes in negative emotion such as sadness, anger, and fear, and it is automatically notified to their counselor or administrator in their educational institution,” explains Sachin.  

“The platform works on all devices, in all languages and regions. It is designed for every student and should be simply used by any school because it's a white-labeled solution, there is a small charge and it's a closed and secure system.”  

The platform has strict protocols for safety, privacy and data protection that also apply during the process to notify the institution about an individual who is potentially at risk. Once the appointed counselor or trusted adult of the institution receives the notification, an independent assessment of the individual who could be at risk is performed and in the case of children, parents or guardians are also engaged. 

How to empower with data and knowledge 

Empowering key players in the ecosystem with data and knowledge is another principle essential for the success of TrustCircle. The data generated and processed by its AI-models from these self-reflection activities not only empowers individuals to understand their emotions, see trends in their own well-being, and take proactive action, but also gives valuable insights to educational authorities and institutions on the ground. TrustCircle has been field tested by researchers globally, including researchers from The WHO collaborating center for mental health research - SCARF, India and by researchers from the Warwick University in the UK.  

TrustCircle is on its way to empower 1.3 million individuals in more than 300 schools and colleges across five countries around the world, including the U.S., Malaysia and India, where its efficiency has been independently tested. 

“We can have this solution go country-wide. At the end of the day, every country needs data, every state in that country needs data, every district under that state needs data, and every school site needs data,” explains Sachin. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) Collaborating Center for Mental Health Research - SCARF, India and the Warwick University (UK) confirmed its success in detecting early signs of anxiety, depression, and psychosis in light of the results of the field test among 13,500 students in more than 25 schools and colleges in the Southern Indian city of Chennai.  

“TrustCircle is one of the early technology solutions of its kind in India that can be scaled globally,” wrote in a statement Dr. R. Thara, chairman of the Schizophrenia Research Foundation (SCARF), the WHO Collaborating Centre for Mental Health Research & Training supporting TrustCircle. 

“It has not only empowered researchers and administrators of schools and colleges by helping identify urgent needs of our youth that require proactive intervention, but it also has empowered our youth with awareness and helped reduce stigma,” confirms Thara. 

TrustCircle has recently joined forces with UNICEF India Country Office and Yuwaah, a Generation Unlimited partnership by UNICEF, to empower over one million students in India in collaboration with BringChange Foundation and SOFINA’s COVID Solidarity Fund. This pilot is being rolled out in collaboration with the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports of India in the state of Maharashtra covering over 108 colleges, and 15,000 students in three districts - Nandurbar, Dhule, and Jalgaon. The success of this project could lay the foundation for national deployment.

“Sound mental health is fundamental to children and young people’s development, in building their capacity and resilience to cope with challenges while maintaining emotional wellbeing as they grow up to reach their full potential”, said in a joint statement Soledad Herrero, UNICEF India Chief of Child Protection, and Dhuwarakha Sriram, Chief of GenU India, Youth Development and Partnerships at YuWaah. “TrustCircle is designed to empower young people at scale. This initiative is spearheaded in partnership with the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Government of India and Yuwaah to initiate a pilot project in over 100 colleges in Maharashtra. We will continue to nurture our partnership and scale impact, together for the well-being of young people.”

International recognition 

The ability of TrustCircle to reach impact at scale has also been supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which has selected TrustCircle as an official UNDP DigitalX solution, a network of the world's most proven digital solutions that the UNDP helps to scale up. Sachin’s organization is also now an official program of the Healthy Brains Global Initiative (HBGI), a unique endeavor supported by the WHO, UNICEF and the World Bank that supports population-scale mental health solutions.  

With these important recognitions, TrustCircle hopes to reach out to many more countries around the world and help them achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 3.4 which aims to reduce the mental health burden by one-third by 2030. The initiative is determined to speed up its impact and reach out to five million people in the next three years, 50 million by 2030 and one billion by 2040. 

“If the ministries of education mandate that two to three minutes of self-reflection time is a requirement, then every school in that country will start giving that space to the students and students will connect with themselves. How powerful is that?”, says Sachin, who aims to inspire governments to prioritise mental health in their agenda. 

For him, the first immediate step is to place self-awareness and social-emotional learning at the heart of educational systems across the world. Sachin, aware of the urgency and the importance of building powerful changemaking networks offline to create system change and impact scale, participates actively in international gatherings delivering keynote presentations about his journey and now aims to inspire educational leaders around the world. 

“In the mental health ecosystem, the agility of decision-makers is missing. Mental health is really underserved and ignored and it's always last on the list.  Without mental health, there is no sound economy, no health, no GDP, and no productivity,” Sachin concludes. 



We invite you to read the full report “Leveraging Platforms for the Good of All. Insights from leading Social Entrepreneurs”, co-authored by Irina Snissar Lobo, Maria Zapata and Erlijn Sie.  We hope you find it useful, and that you will share your insights with us at