For Arushi Sethi, Managing Director and Founder of Trijog, a mental health startup, 2015 was a year of monumental change. She had just graduated from college, and was visiting a friend in Nepal for a quick trip before starting her new job. But what was supposed to be a trip of sightseeing and food-tasting turned into a traumatic experience. A day after she landed in Kathmandu, the region was struck by a devastating earthquake, killing over 8,000 people. While Arushi was rescued within the first 48 hours, the incident left her with deep trauma—she experienced severe anxiety attacks and palpitations.
Fortunately, Arushi’s mother and business partner, clinical psychologist Anureet Sethi, gave her the right tools to heal from that traumatic experience. And while Arushi was grateful for her mother’s guidance, she was left wondering about people with no access to mental health support. So instead of letting her trauma break her spirit, she decided to use it to help others, and founded Trijog in 2015. “I wanted to make sure that my anxiety doesn’t become the end of me but gives life to others,” she said.
Through Trijog, Arushi has helmed several mental health campaigns, including Sneha: A Ray of Hope, which dealt with postpartum depression, and The Artidote, which promoted healing through art. In 2019, Arushi’s efforts in making mental health care accessible led her to a remarkable feat—she was appointed as the youngest board member of the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) and the Chairperson of its Youth Section. But Arushi doesn’t let her accolades define her. “Because your success should not be a definition of your self-worth, but the other way around. I would like everybody to know that the feats you achieve don’t define who you are,” she says.
While 27 might seem like a young age to lead a successful start-up, Arushi has proved that dynamic leadership has nothing to do with age. In 2020, when the pandemic turned our world upside down, it was Arushi’s leadership that not only saved her company, but also the lives of several people. As India went into lockdown, the demand for mental health support rose, and people turned to the internet. To meet the demand, Trijog amplified its online support, including pro-bono sessions, to those in need. It wasn’t an easy task for a company whose business model depended 80% on offline appointments. However, Arushi restructured the business model and Trijog went completely online—and she did it overnight!
It is important to applaud women like Arushi, who stepped up for the country during a difficult time. While some of us were confined to the safety of our homes in 2020, a faction of trailblazing women like her rose to the occasion and took it upon themselves to make a difference. With the POPxo Power Women List 2020, we are celebrating these changemakers who went the extra mile, swiftly adapting to the new normal and also made strides that had a lasting impact. And of course, Arushi is one of them. Her 2020 power move—of quickly adapting to a new online business model—helped millions manage their mental health. Cut to 2021, Trijog has successfully managed to transform over 5 million lives through their counselling services, awareness campaigns, webinars and events. POPxo caught up with her over a conversation on who inspires her, smashing taboos around mental health and the future of therapy. Lightly edited excerpts below:
To me, power is responsibility—it’s holding the ability to mould perspective and impact perception.
Faith inspires me, because life has shown me time and again that things just have to work out. That’s the only way. We need to have a continued amount of faith in each and everything that we’re doing. To accomplish our goals and vision, we need to have faith in the very next step. My support system—my mom and brother—are also my inspiration because of their agility, resilience and optimism that they’ve always made sure that I’ve had.
Being accepted for their authenticity is one of the biggest challenges women face today—we want to be accepted for who we are and how we are, without having to ‘fit in’. Our society has set up unrealistic standards for everything we do. It’s time to ask the question: why do we let them?
You first have to be a human being, then a feeling being and then any other title that you carry. For me, what I’ve tried to do as a leader is to always have open doors. You need to raise people up with you, only then can you create a collective collaborative impact. A leader is also someone who creates a shift in perspective, thought and execution. Another quality that is very important to me as a leader is to empathise and empower.
I think what’s really important, at least what we do at Trijog is making sure that you are heard, valued and appreciated. We encourage them to authentically be themselves. These things build in you an amount of care and you feel like you belong. That kind of appreciation can go a long way—it builds up your self-worth and self-esteem. We’ve tried to make everybody feel extremely worthy at Trijog and that’s why we are able to build what we have for India and globally.
I still remember it was March 16 when all of us were in the office together. Of course, nobody could have imagined what was coming. But when something like that (the pandemic) happens, you firstly need to acknowledge and accept the reality. Once the lockdown happened, we moved the entire team to my house. All 37 of us were sitting there and I realised, this is a time for change. So we changed the entire model overnight—literally! All our departments sat down and brainstormed for six hours straight to change our model to be adapted to digital execution. It was only because we have such a strong base that we were able to do it in such a short time. The very next day, we started training our team on our digital operations. But let me tell you—all of this was only possible because of my team. They surpassed every expectation of mine, and I feel extremely blessed to have such people working with us.
I think a hybrid model is the way forward when it comes to mental health. Virtual therapy has opened up several benefits—accessibility, affordability and convenience. What we’ve tried to do is to take the value of an in-person session—like safety, trust, comfort, tone of voice etc—and transfer it to an online session. But when it comes to therapy, what works for an adult may not work for a child. Say, adults will thrive during an online session, but kids will always need in-person therapy. That is why a hybrid model will work in the future.
It definitely was! On one hand, we had to cater to the mental wellbeing of so many people, on the other, we also had to keep the company running during this difficult period. We’re all human beings at the end of the day, so of course, it was extremely overwhelming for all of us. So while we worked hard to make mental health accessible to more people during the pandemic, we made sure we did not discount what we’re feeling. We sought help when we needed it. In fact, I was also seeking help in the form of therapy myself. I really thank my therapist for supporting me during such a tough period!
I think till about very recently, say six-seven years back, it was the biggest taboo ever. It was also one of the reasons why Trijog came about to be one of the first organisations for collective mental health care in India. The word ‘mental’ has always had a very negative connotation, and the goal was to move from illness to wellness. But there have been a lot of factors that have played a part in improving awareness about mental health in India. Privileged members of our society coming out with their own struggles has played a huge role. We need to understand that there is a trickle from top to bottom—people find it easy to identify with a public figure and it helps them open up about their own struggles. In fact, Trijog’s first campaign in 2015 was called ‘Stand Up To Stigma’ where we featured 20 very strong, prominent personalities.
So yes, while the stigma still very much exists, we’re in a MUCH better position than we were 10 years ago. Today, at least people are talking about it, they want to know more about it, and I would say that the pandemic pushed awareness ahead by five years. It needs to be a collaborative effort. We need every industry, every individual talking about this (mental health) and acknowledge it because there is only one thing that seven billion of us possess together, and that is a mind.
If I’m being completely honest, for mental wellbeing to be normalised and accepted as a lifestyle, I would say at least 10 years. But there has to be a shift on every level. For example, when corporates induct their new employees, along with their physical insurance, they should start covering mental health insurance as well—that is how normalised it needs to become. I see our youth playing a huge role in this change, and I think we will leave this world in a much better position than when we walked into it.
You need to listen to your inner voice when it talks to you. We need to ask ourselves one question—what are you afraid of? Today, help exists, support systems exist, and affordable therapy exists. Trijog provides therapy at affordable rates. For people who can’t afford to pay for it, trusts and NGOs provide free therapy. We all have apps that can be of help sometimes. So what you need to do is identify your struggle, acknowledge what you are going through and accept that this can get better. But only YOU can take this step for YOUR well being. So listen to your inner voice, and take that first step. Because every mind matters, every feeling is valid. And there IS a light at the end of this tunnel.
To be honest, things like ‘titles’ have never mattered to me as an individual. But of course it feels empowering, it feels great! I feel very grateful to be on the board and to be representing our country to drive this change, but I don’t let my title define my self-worth. Because your success should not be a definition of your self-worth, but the other way around. And I would like everybody to know that the feats you achieve don’t define who you are.