Mobile apps for armed forces personnel and service veterans

ContactMartin Evans, Head of Communications
Telephone07969814302
Emailmartin.evans@sssft.nhs.uk
Websitehttp://www.southstaffsandshropshealthcareft.nhs.uk
AddressSt Georges Hospital, Corporation Street, Stafford, ST16 3AG

South Staffordshire and Shropshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust have developed mobile apps for armed forces personnel and service veterans, which give information on signs and symptoms of core mental health problems and where to get help.

The Joining Forces mental health awareness app is aimed at Armed Forces personnel, their families and friends.

App store Google play

The Veterans mental health awareness app is aimed at service veterans, families and friends.

App store Google play

Background

Reducing stigma in mental health and offering something that will encourage armed service personnel and indeed veterans, to come forward for help, is a real challenge. Whilst there is plenty of information online, there is a dearth available with clear clinical credibility in a mobile app market which is clearly a growth area. Further, to date, there has been limited discussion on social media surrounding mental health issues in the Armed Forces. The intention with the App was to broaden discussion wider than Combat Stress (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) to other mental health disorders/problems.

It took some time to develop the apps and get the script right for the target audience. There was a balance to be struck in developing something which had clinical credibility but was easy to understand. It also needed to be visibly appealing to the audience.

Development

Joining forces appThe creation of the apps, from concept to end product and market, involved much research. The structure of the apps and how it would flow was worked up in various mind maps and free thinking sessions. The script was based on the definitions of 11 core mental health disorders as described by the World Health Organisation but then carefully re-crafted to reduce the jargon. The first app imagery was designed to be appealing to the 3 Armed Services and the videos to be short, capture imagination and relevant for the mobile and tablet market. The apps were bench-tested with a current serving military audience and then veterans. Their positive reception and insightful comments led us to believe that potentially we had developed something unique and valued. The positive comment and feedback from the first Joining Forces App led to improvements for the second.

Resources

The Trust had the internal staff skill set and experience to create these apps from concept to reality – from clinical input, project management and design technical specialist.
The initial draft design cost £5k for a prototype but much of scripting, editing, PR and finished design was undertaken in-house and in partnership with the Ministry of Defence (MOD). Similar external app projects in terms of manpower, cost in the region of at least £13k.

Outcomes

Veterans appWe were pleasantly surprised by our bench-test audience and how willing they were to engage with the Joining Forces App themes and that our first cut was actually not far off a finished version. We suspected that in using social media to promote there would be potential for discussion and were prepared for criticism of the first app content but the overwhelming support for what we created took us a little by surprise.

When we released the Joining Forces app we reviewed social media forums (Army/Air Force/Navy) and we saw more than 2500 Facebook likes and hugely positive comments, from a traditionally often rather cynical audience. The positive nature of this story was picked up by the Sunday Express, BBC England and BBC local – which has generated further interest. Professional contacts through Linked-in has given constructive debate, critique and once again positive comment of all ranks up to 3 star officers.

The social media discussion generated by the first app on the difficult subject of mental health was lively from, ‘about bloody time’, ’any help is good’, ‘what about veterans?’ ‘should have had it when I was in’, ‘a step in the right direction’. There was certainly a clamour for something similar for Veterans and that is why we put the energy into the second app. To date we have not really launched the Veterans app with MOD but already the feedback has been positive. As an example one veteran from the West Midlands said that it has really helped to know that he is not alone and that the videos were inspirational.

Downloads for the Joining Forces app are over 4000 (apple and android) and for Veterans app with no real push around 400 (apple and android).

In summary the apps are unique and have been exceptionally well received. For both, the partnership with MOD has been and will be critical to their promotion and success. The use of social media to generate debate to dispel mental health myths and combat stigma, has been excellent.

Challenges

As noted above, the initial challenge was to create something understandable but relevant and then to manage the partnership between clinicians and MOD. The most difficult element of the process of creation of the app was the video production. It is a real skill to present in videos and be natural and it took some coaxing from those involved. The other technical issue is the time to rewrite any app to android – a totally different language from apple.

Future plans

We have had interest from the United States Military to create something similar. Also given the paucity of what is available of a similar nature for the general public, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has expressed an interest in partnership with us on something similar for the broadest of audiences.

Key learning points

  • Have a clear design plan
  • Include a marketing plan
  • Use national media if possible to promote
  • Use social media as campaign to highlight and promote
  • Short videos are powerful but damn hard to get right
  • Don’t give up.
  • Apply for national awards and if you don’t win do not be disappointed because the profile to promote your work is still good