Attempting to make an App for depressed people and failing
People who have experienced sadness may think they understand depression, but that’s not usually the case. While depression is a serious mental illness, it is highly misunderstood.
Why do I care about depression?
I am a huge Linkin Park fan & I was absolutely shocked when I came to know that Chester Bennington, lead singer of Linkin Park committed suicide due to depression. I could not think that a person who had millions of fans, a wonderful and loving family and was doing the work he loved couldn’t find enough reasons to stay in this world.
After this news, I went on to learn as much as I could about depression and how it makes you feel. I joined a few Facebook groups just so I could talk to as many people to better understand them. The experience was terrifying, to begin with. I talked to a few people who were planning to actually kill themselves the same night. I had no idea how to respond to them but I kept on talking to them so that I can keep them engaged and change their mind.
These people were very hard to open up. They will resist you a lot because they think that no one will understand them. They also feel guilty of having these thoughts and being unable to carry out the basic daily task when the whole world appears to be so happy & strong. I found out that beneath the layer of the cloudy mess of hopelessness and meaninglessness that depression creates on the mind, they were fully functioning human beings with dreams & goals.
Give a man a mask and he will show his true face
I also found out that once you mask the identity, these people are actually very vocal about their feelings. Most of the people that I met on this Facebook group were using a different profile and thus had a sense of security & confidentiality from the judgments from friends and family.
The people suffering from depression are masters of disguise. It is very difficult to tell if a person is depressed just by looking at them. They are capable of portraying very different versions of themselves in front of others.
Where to start with?
It would be immature to expect that a person who is suffering from depression will ever open some application for help. On contrary, they would try to detach themselves from the world as much as possible. In this scenario, how could you ever make something to help them when their mind would never allow them to take the step?
The help should come from outside. I am relying on the fact that these people would make the choice to use and set up this application when they are in a good mood as the depressive episodes are usually followed by a duration of happy mood and in this time period the person has hope, aspirations and even the desire to fight the depression.
The main aim of this application is to be a central hub for resources that could help the person when they are in their depressive state. Since it is very likely that the person would not open this application willingly, thus we will have to rely on notifications.
I wanted to have a very simple login process as people suffering from depression can often get easily anxious and might even give up trying if they face a complicated login process. Social media logins are usually a good idea in this case.
- Trusted Contacts
The first step for any new user is to set up trusted contacts. Ideally, these contacts should be people who are aware of your mental state and they can be informed if the person is showing the signs of isolation for a long time by not having any contact via phone call.
It is highly probable that the person suffering doesn’t want to inform someone else about their situation and thus can opt-out from system sending a notification to the contacts. In this case, these contacts can basically be used as a reminder by the system to initiate the process of reaching out.
2. Gratitude Board
A person who is depressed always has a deep sense of being a burden on others. They view their past with a filter of failure and future with no hope. They regard their achievement as luck, “not good enough” or not important in the grand scheme of things. It is very important that they are reminded about all of their achievements and things that they are grateful for. Gratitude board aims to do the same. Whenever I talked to someone who is depressed, the first thing that I try is to list out all the achievements and things that they are grateful for. This exercise rarely works the first time as they are unable to find anything worthwhile or good-enough to be listed. I was talking to a person who was a huge anime fan and made excellent illustrations but he did not feel that they are good enough, worthy or that it matters anyway. It is often helpful to start by giving them a suggestion on why they should be grateful.
My goal with the gratitude board is that it would be a source of light whenever the person is engulfed in the cloud of meaninglessness and hopelessness.
The homepage is divided into several sections.
Mask of anonymity
As per my experience from talking to people in the Facebook group, I realized that people will tell you anything if they have a mask of anonymity. I feel that if someone is depressed and gets a suitable outlet to express, it could do wonders for them at least in short term. Few people with whom I talked to were actually planning to kill themselves. I spent around 4 hours talking to a person just so I could keep him occupied. After the end of the conversation, he actually felt really nice about being able to say things that were going on in his mind and having someone who would listen without judgment.
I wanted to incorporate this idea of chatting to someone anonymously into this application as well. The goal is to form a community of people who are willing to help out or listen to someone suffering from a mental illness.
Here are the results of testing the prototype. The test comprised of 10 people who were suffering from depression. These people were from the Facebook group. Here is the link to the group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/417121811736206
- Only 20% were ready to rely on an app for help. They did not think it was possible for them to open an app when they were feeling depressed.
- 80% of them said that the ability to chat anonymously is something that they feel would be useful to them.
- 60% of them felt that having a gratitude/ achievement board is helpful.
- Only 1 person out of 10 was willing that their trusted contacts should be notified when they showed signs of isolation. They did not feel confident enough to tell it to the people close to them.
Even though the app did not produce the results that I had hoped for, I am still very happy to have experienced the things in the process and thus wanted to share all that I learned. In conclusion, the only thing that helps for sure is to lend your ears to someone who is suffering from depression and reminding them that they are not alone 🙂
Hello. I am Amit, a Computer Science graduate from India looking to work on exciting UX design challenges. Feel free to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.