An interview with CEO and Co-founder of Start, an App that tracks moods and side effects.

If anything, we think Start may help people feel less stigma about their condition. After all, they are actively working to get better, to find a better path. There’s no room for stigma with that. — Thomas Goetz, CEO-Cofounder of Iodine

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post about a new App that helps people with depression who are starting a new medication track their moods and side-effects. Thomas Goetz, the CEO and Co-founder of Iodine, the company that built the App, Start, reached out. I was able to ask him a few questions about the design of the App, the stigma associated with depression and what happens with your data once it is collected.

1) I find that the “tips” that are included from “real-life” people taking the same medications adds comfort to the App. What was your goal in designing this app?

We think people’s experience — real life experience in the real world — is the most powerful force in medicine. We look at the experience people have with a new antidepressant and see a lot of failure and frustration and waste, for the person and for the care system. But because treatment often happens in isolation, people are largely on their own in deciding if a drug is working or not. So with Start, we want to help people learn from their own experience, to help them decide if their treatment is working, faster. We can’t offer medical advice, but we can help people check in on their progress with a new medication, and determine how it’s going. That information can help a medication work — if it will work — and it can help a person and their doctor decide on an adjusted course of treatment.

2) What is your take on the stigma associated with mental illness and how do you bridge that?

We are well aware of that stigma. We’re careful to make Start a positive experience — where people are learning about themselves, staying positive about their goals, and trying to manage expectations. Oftentimes people feel bad that they’re not getting better — but it’s not your fault if a medicine doesn’t seem to work or if the side effects make it difficult to stick with. That’s part of the process, and we wanted to make sure our Start app makes people feel better about their care, not worse.

3) Do you think it is (stigma) a challenge among potential users who would like to try the app?

I think the stigma is always a challenge for people, but there’s something powerful about how mobile phones are so personal to us, so intrinsic to our daily lives. We’re careful to make the reminders and notifications not refer specifically to depression or medications. If anything, we think Start may help people feel less stigma about their condition. After all, they are actively working to get better, to find a better path. There’s no room for stigma with that.

4) The app is a terrific tool for depression, do you see a future where you may develop an app for those with Bipolar Disorder?

We’re certainly looking at other mental health conditions as areas where we could help people. Right now, Start is designed specifically for antidepressants and depression, to measure how well those drugs are working for people. We definitely have ideas about how we can replicate that design and model to other conditions.

5) Who are some of the partners that you work with and how do they use the data collected from the app?

All the information we gather from our users is anonymized; we never know who a person is or can look at their personally identifiable information. Right now, we work with a nonprofit called Postpartum Progress that helps new mothers facing depression. We share updates on what those people are experiencing and learning as a group, but never as individuals. We also are talking with several academic research partners about looking at how effective Start is at helping people and doctors; again that information will be shared in aggregate, not on an individual basis.

6) What is the thing that most excites you about the app?

I think we’ve been struck by how Start really does work for people — people who have struggled otherwise to find something that helps them, they’re telling us that Start is an important tool for them to feel better. Those stories are incredibly encouraging to us, letting us feel like we’re actually getting somewhere and doing something positive. And so we’re really excited about getting it to as many people as we can, and learning from everyone’s experience to help more people every day.

I am still using Start and will completing the check-ins and reading the tips. I will post a few review soon about my continued experience with the app.