June 2017

Taking Depression on, Digitally: An Interview with the DE-press-ON App’s Creator Colin Radcliffe

One rainy night in 2016, shortly after being diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety, Colin Radcliffe walked onto a bridge intending to jump off. Fortunately, he realized that doing so would not so much end his pain as it would simply transfer it to his wife and son. Stepping back, Colin recognized he had a choice: accept and live with his condition, or allow it to control and destroy him, his work, and his family.  He chose to press on.

Colin sought treatment, working with psychologists and in group sessions that sometimes used mobile apps. Colin realized that existing treatments that utilized modern technology were woefully inadequate and failed to amplify the helpful aspects of group therapy. Drawing on the mutual support and humor that he gained from those group sessions, Colin embarked on a project to design a better app, one that used technology to promote acceptance, positivity, and understanding about mental illness.

Since then, Colin and an international team of developers and psychologists have been building DE-press-ON, an app-in-the-making that supports people battling depression, raises awareness about depression, and combats the stigmas associated with mental health conditions. DE-press-ON is designed to work in concert with medication and/or in-person therapy. By drawing on people’s familiarity and comfort with mobile technology, DE-press-ON opens new doors, particularly for people who are unwilling or unable to attend in-person therapy sessions. DE-press-ON provides a platform for people to learn about, share their experiences, and help one another to persevere against depression. As the team says, “with DE-press-ON, we PRESS on.”

Colin spoke recently by email with TAHR editor Tom Foley about his experience and the DE-press-ON project.

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How long had you been dealing with depression and anxiety before you decided to seek professional help?

I had been diagnosed early last year (2016) with depression and anxiety but tried to deal with the conditions on my own for many months, as in my mind I was too strong a person to have to seek help for something I considered at the time to be “all in the mind”. Unfortunately, after months of trying to cope with the conditions I found myself unable to cope, which led me to ending up on a motorway bridge about to take my own life. Luckily the thought of leaving my son, wife and family behind overcame my urge to seek the release of suicide. It was at this point I accepted I needed professional help.

On the DE-press-ON website, you describe the mobile apps recommended by psychologists as being “formal, bland and sterile.”  What was it about those resources that you felt was lacking?  Were they unhelpful?  How many apps are available?

There are thousands of apps available. And some are in some ways helpful, whereas others are not at all. But overall I found the apps available to be sterile and very clinical, and all lacking a key element which I found from my group therapy to be the most helpful. And that is putting people together to help one another other.

You mention on the site that De-Press-On seeks to provide treatment, raise awareness, and fight the stigmas associated with depression.  What kind of stigmas surround depression and anxiety in the U.K.?

I believe that a lack of education regarding mental health is one of the main reasons of the stigma that is attached to the conditions. Which is why hopefully one of the elements of DE-press-ON will be to raise awareness from an early age of mental health within our schools in the U.K. We are hoping that eventually we can hold workshops like the ones we held in Liverpool a few weeks ago to get children to help and have input in developing an app similar to DE-press-ON for youngsters. I found that there are large numbers of people who still believe that these conditions are not really an illness but more of a sign weakness of the people who suffer from them.

Are there regulations or best practices that you and your team have followed while building the app?  

I am fortunate enough to have met the founder of ORCHA [Organization for the Review of Care & Health Applications] at the very early stages of my vision of the app. ORCHA is the worlds largest health app review site. And through this connection we will have an in-depth view of any regulatory issues and also best practices.

Since starting this work, what have you learned about current treatment strategies and the use of technology in addressing medical conditions?

I believe that current treatment strategies are some what dated and have really failed to progress over the years, which is why in my opinion mental health [diagnoses] has continued to increase over the years. I also believe that the use of technology sometimes can be made in a way that is too technical. I actually think that if we simplify what we are trying to do with the technology available we can make much more of a positive impact to the user.

Do you think we are at the beginning of a revolution in self-treatment of medical conditions facilitated by technology, or will technology and apps contribute to existing models of care?

I believe that both elements can help each other. Both have positives that can really help people to live with these conditions.

You have spoken across the U.K. about the app and your work.  What has been the response, from patients, activists, and providers?

The feedback I have received has mostly been very positive. People are really drawn into the new positive approach we are taking with our way of thinking. From the very early stages of the idea I asked people who were in my group as well as many others who had been effected in some way by these conditions e.g. family members, friends, etc. and everyone gave me really positive feedback back which encouraged me to really try and make this idea a reality.

Colin RadcliffeColin Radcliffe is the creator of DE-press-ON, a patient voice for ORCHA, and an ambassador for World Health Innovation Summit.

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