‘Share. Not Shame’
Circles, the mental healthcare startup, aims to help those impacted by feelings of isolation and loneliness by developing an easier and more effective method of creating community with others who are living through similar experiences. On the Circles platform, users are able to find and connect with others that share similar experiences to build stronger “micro-communities” akin to times when humans were living in close-knit villages rather than larger cities and towns.
The startup’s mission comes at a great time, with people in the US and beyond feeling the isolating effects of lockdowns and pandemic restrictions. “We are going through something like 80% of Americans in the last two weeks reported that they feel stressed. 80% of Americans,” Eichler says, “and there is no solution for them out there. So, when you think of mental health, most people think of therapy, right? Immediately. You think of therapy. And thinking that you can solve mental health challenges just with therapy, it's like thinking that you can solve world hunger just with high-end restaurants[.] It just doesn't fit. It's not accessible.”
The solution posed by Eichler and the Circles team is to create a platform for people to find the much-needed social support that has been declining in the modern, technology-centric world of today. Moreover, Circles works to build legitimate, impactful connections with people who can relate to our personal struggles. As Eichler says, “We mixed communication with connection. We think that social networks are connecting us, but it's not connecting us, just helping us communicate. But it's in no way a connection. Connection is speaking to people, nodding, smiling, interacting.” And, the startup has made strides to ensure it is as accessible as possible without sacrificing results by offering a $20 per week plan that provides access to a matched circle of support that is led by a professional therapist, includes personalized exercises, and offers 24/7 support.
Humanized Mental Health Tech
For Eichler, launching a startup that provided mental health care services was extremely personal, “[S]even years ago, I lost my mother to cancer, and before I lost her, I spent a lot of time with her. Sitting with her, talking with her.” Eichler explains, “In the last few months, she told me that it doesn't really help [her] because she feels lonely. She knows that I care about her. She knows that I love her, but since I don't know what it is [like] to be dying.”
He continues to say, “two days after she told me that, I overheard her speaking with a friend of hers that had cancer as well. And my mother was vivid and alive and happy, and I felt that she was striving and I was overwhelmed by the differences between the two conversations.” During the time the founder was grieving his mother, the realization came to him, the most impactful support he received during this time was from his siblings and others that had lost their parents due to their ability to relate to his perspective at the time. “I went out and I was looking for a go-to place, a place for people dealing with any kind of emotional challenge. And there wasn't any,” he said. Therefore, he set out to create one of his own, and Circles was born.
The Reward of Helping Others
When asked about what motivates Eichler, the answer is, unsurprisingly, about being able to provide for members of the community. “We really save lives. There are many coming each week, but there is one that was particularly meaningful.” He says, “We did a holiday campaign where we provided free Circles for three days over Christmas and New Year's for people who lost a loved one. There was one woman from Mississippi who shared that she lost her husband and two sons. She joined the Circle from Hawaii, and she went there because [she] couldn't stand being in her empty home during the holidays. She was so grateful for the opportunity of having people saying ‘Merry Christmas’ and caring about her. She said, ‘I have no one in the world.’ In these moments, I know it is all worth it because she felt connected. She wasn't alone anymore. People really cared about her."