THE BLOG

Fingertip Stability: My Search for the Perfect Depression App

10/10/2014 13:37 | Updated 09 December 2014

Four years ago I became an app maker. It began with a conversation between me and another mother round a kitchen table. What had happened to the art of learning poems by heart? We came up with an idea for a children's poetry app which would equip the digitally-native generation with a store of verse. As most technology can now be kept on your person at all times, I began to see apps as a new way of having something by heart. Our app became iF Poems. It was a surprise hit, winning awards, and downloads now run to tens of thousands in more than 25 countries.

With everything now portable, I began looking for apps to help manage my anxiety and depressive tendencies. I had suffered for over a decade, during which time I had two very severe breakdowns. The idea of knowing I had stability at my fingertips - a key to day to day wellbeing in my pocket - was comforting. Anne Sexton, the brilliant American poet who tragically took her own life from depression, had said 'I've got to have something to hold on to.' This was the crutch I needed.

But most of the popular apps I found were primarily diagnostic tools: how depressed was I? Did I have bipolar? I already knew what my problem was and had sought medical attention. I needed solutions to known problems.

These solutions sometimes came in the guise of game apps which told you 'quick, drink a glass of water!' But what about when you're feeling deadly serious? Here that cliché - deadly serious - regains some of its original force. At my lowest, the pain was so severe that I, like many others, would have done anything to relieve myself of it. Games were out of the question.

Even the most useful, serious apps only focused on a single approach or area of improvement: on the breath, the heart rate, relaxation, or mindfulness techniques. There was no Anatomy of Melancholy, as it were. I didn't want to go here and there for my wellbeing. I needed something which compiled various approaches in one place. It needed to be by heart.

I decided to make my own, and called it the Black Rainbow app after my memoir of the same name. It features everything that has helped me in my seventeen-year experience of dealing with the illness. During my lows, I had always found consoling poetry and prose a help. I have therefore included all those healing words which have helped me, and which can now be shared with others who are in need at the push of a button. And because you might not always be well enough to concentrate on the written word, there are recorded readings by renowned actors such as Julian Glover and Isla Blair, and the beloved broadcaster Martyn Lewis. These voices are with you whenever your mind and soul might need them.

For your body, there is advice from a nutritionist on what to eat to improve your mood, or help you deal with insomnia or tension. There are guided sleep and relaxation audios by the modern guru Ross Puddle, as well as exercise tips.

The Black Rainbow app doesn't require you to complete laborious surveys and assessments in order to reap its benefits. When anxiety is making you feel overwhelmed, or life overwhelming you has been the cause of your anxiety, the last thing you need is too much information.

Though I designed this app, I'm not a techy. I didn't come to the idea as an entrepreneur, with a formula for appealing to every age category. (The app is currently free. Otherwise, all proceeds go to two mental health charities.) I came to it as a person who suffers from depression, and one who understands what a sufferer might need, and might be capable of, in her hour of need. And as it is personal to me, I don't intend its advice to be prescriptive or sacred.

There is as yet no one-size-fits-all approach for depression. Some of the things that worked best for me might not work for you at all, but hopefully my approaches will help you to unlock your own methods of coping. You won't find any games, though, I'm afraid. This is a serious matter.

Today is World Mental Health Day. That mental health issues are acknowledged with a calendar date is heartening, but we still have a long way to go. Research is currently underway to determine a blood test for depression, which will hopefully lead to new effective treatments. Until research is conclusive, however, those of us faced with managing our depression need something to hold on to, day after day: fingertip stability. I turn to my own app on days when I feel the familiar stirrings of anxiety and depression. It is always in my pocket.

The Black Rainbow app is available for Apple and Android devices. Download it from the Apple app store and from the Google play store. All proceeds are being given to the charities SANE and United Response. Follow Rachel on twitter @rache_Kelly or go to www.blackrainbow.org.uk.