Developing a Mental Health App: ‘My Journey’

Why Did We Build My Journey?
In my role as a mental health nurse I have been entrusted with young people’s deepest fears and hopes about their mental health. Several of those accessing our Early Intervention in Psychosis service expressed their wish for a way to identify mental health issues earlier and to have an accessible service on hand. It is an open referral service, so the better the information about how to seek help, the better the chance of being able to intervene early in the course of a mental health problem. Many of them felt that the journey into our service had been complicated by a lack of relevant and attractive information.

Over time this feedback coalesced into an expressed wish to be able to use their mobile phones as part of the services they received from us. Some of their ideas were about being able to get appointment reminders, medication reminders, track their mood and share the progress they were making with people who they deemed important in their recovery. It was clear that this could bring significant benefits and that we needed to make it happen.

We Got The Right People Involved
The development of the app has been an interesting, frustrating and rewarding journey. I have been very lucky to go through it with a group of very able and wonderful adults and young people who are passionate about improving young people’s mental health. It was important that we involve a range of people who could guide its development from a service user, management, marketing, pharmacy and clinical perspective. To make this happen we formed a project group that included young people experiencing mental health issues, a consultant psychiatrist, a Community Psychiatric Nurse, a Web Developer, the Chief Pharmacist and Communications & Marketing Officer and myself, a manager. The diversity of this group ensured that the needs and implications of the app were considered from a range of user and stakeholder perspectives.

We Got Wider Help
We firmed up the idea for a youth mental health mobile app. and were very humbled to be voted 7th out of 500 ideas submitted to the ‘Maps and Apps’ crowdsourcing competition. We really can’t thank everyone who voted enough!

We Kept Focused
So what’s it like to develop a health app? Its a very rewarding process but you need to retain the focus of why you are developing the app in the first place. There are over 20,000 health apps in the iTunes store alone. It is important to ensure that what we develop will add value and will not end up being just another app sitting unused on a mobile device. This focus is not just for one person to hold, but for the whole project group to regularly consider and communicate through questioning and reflection. If you don’t keep the focus then you will end up with a sub-standard product.

To help us stay focused we repeatedly returned to and re-asked ourselves these questions:

What is the overall aim of the app?
Who will use it?
Why would this person or group of people choose to use this app?
What will be the benefits and what might be the unintended consequences of using the app?
We found that this level of constant enquiry and willingness to learn whilst developing and tweaking the product was very important; especially when things didn’t go as expected.

We Tested While Building, Not at the End
In September 2012, twenty young people who access services took the app for a ‘test drive’ with a usability questionnaire to inform further development of the app. To see the app in people’s hands and hear their thoughts on the numerous possibilities that this app can offer is a truly humbling experience. It is also somewhat scary, because we are nearing the precipice of any such project.

The Hardest Part is Yet to Come
I believe the development of the app has been the easy part. Getting wider adoption is the hardest bit. Whilst people who use services have generally embraced the app with enthusiasm and ideas on how to make it even better, the app has more hurdles to jump. For instance, it will have to prove that it can make a difference in the outcomes for young people who use it.

Nevertheless, I am not one to shy away from challenges so onwards and upwards!