How do we find out how we really feel?
by Michael Heap
I have struggled with depression since I was 20, catalysed by moving to London for work and having time to really think by myself.
I wouldn’t say I recognised it as such at the time, but it manifested itself as long periods of not leaving my bed, ignoring people and just a general feeling of numbness or lack of joy.
Today it comes and goes, sometimes related to life events, but often not, and despite brief flirtations with therapy I had never really addressed it formally.
The older I became the better I got at talking with friends about some (but not all) episodes, generally with those who also confided in me and this definitely helped, at least in making me feel I was not alone, even if the causes of our depression were often different.
As I spoke to more friends, it also became apparent that, as people, we are incredibly good actors when we want to be and are adept at covering ourselves with a veil of happiness for the outside world to see with the click of our fingers. This often means that very few people, even loved ones, are aware of our true feelings and mental state.
In a way, I consider myself fortunate that because of my own experiences I am able to identify some instances in my friends before they ask for help (although it pains me to think about how many more I miss), and therefore am able to offer support or at least someone to talk to.
I spent a lot of time thinking about this and how, like as not, it is but the tip of the iceberg - the number of times we catch them out as their veil slips for a moment.
It was while lying in bed one weekend for a little longer than is probably necessary (you know, as the Deliveroo options change from breakfast/brunch to lunch… and maybe to dinner) that the thought for Devas came to me.
I had recently read a (cheerily-titled) book called “Everybody Lies” which I found really interesting for two reasons:
Firstly, I love House (the TV show)…
Secondly, because the premise of the book is to focus on what people do not what they say.
People can hide how they feel with what they say very easily but what they end up doing is much more closely aligned with their true beliefs and values.
Actions speak louder than words.
I forget the exact examples (I’d recommend reading anyway so you can find them yourself) but there were things like using Google search data to predict voting patterns, how likely people were to vote or even estimating proportions of sexualities in specific states in the US.
I fell for this idea hook, line and sinker and got to thinking, depression is a classic case of people ‘lying’ en masse (both to themselves and others), so what data could be used to reveal the truth and help people better understand their own minds?
I thought back to my own actions when I am depressed: I try to avoid conversation with people (especially digitally), ignore messages and phone calls, spend longer on my phone watching mindless videos on YouTube, my sleep quality plummets, I might not eat as much or eat too much (delicious) crap, I definitely don’t exercise and likely won’t leave my bed, let alone flat.
So, if these are my behaviours, how can I get this data, objectively, to see whether it could be used to identify times I was feeling down, or even before I start to decline?
It was at this point I realised, the answer was in my pocket - my phone. We carry them everywhere and most of this data can be obtained (or at least proxies for it can be gathered) from them.
That was the first part solved, theoretically speaking at least, but then what?
Nobody wants an app that alerts them to just tell them “Hey! you’re depressed!”, I didn’t think that would be helpful at all, so thought what would be the best next step?
What did I find most helpful?
Talking with friends.
So, once the app identifies I am feeling a little low, it should tell my friends (but not all of them, just the ones I choose, who I feel comfortable talking to) and then we should chat.
That was it, conceptually, solved (in my head):
- Your phone identifies when you are down, tells your friends
- Your friends get in touch, you go for a chat, talk through it all and feel a tiny bit better (hopefully)
- Rinse and repeat 1 and 2 and not only does the identification improve (as false flags are marked by your friends) but you receive help long before you reach a point of crisis, leading to less erratic swings in behaviour and hopefully a healthier mental state overall
But I also know that talking to friends won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, you might just not be ready to take that step yet and so I wanted to build something that helped everyone better understand their minds and identified methods, tailored to them, of how to take action to improve their mood - whether that be listening to different music, getting more rest, exercising more (or less), meditation or seeking professional help.
This is exactly what we want Devas to do.
We want to combine technology with humans to help people work on their mental fitness. Our team shares a vision to reach as many people as possible to prevent and manage mental health problems.
Come and join us, sign up now and be the first to try Devas when we launch.
Michael Heap is a freelance innovation consultant to start-ups and corporates, building products, managing large projects and helping take ideas from inception to adoption. He has 9 years of experience previously working in Financial Services at a Big 4 firm and is the CEO and co-founder of Devas.