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NFP Harnessing Technology to Manage Mental Illness

30 March 2017 at 2:22 pm
Wendy Williams
An Australian not for profit has launched a new app that hopes to revolutionise the way episodes of mania are managed by using every day technology to allow for earlier detection.

Wendy Williams | 30 March 2017 at 2:22 pm


NFP Harnessing Technology to Manage Mental Illness
30 March 2017 at 2:22 pm

An Australian not for profit has launched a new app that hopes to revolutionise the way episodes of mania are managed by using every day technology to allow for earlier detection.

National mental health organisation SANE Australia has developed the app to alert people living with bipolar, as well as a nominated loved one or mental health professional, to the potential onset of mania in a bid to prevent the impacts of an episode.

The app, which was announced to coincide with World Bipolar Day on Thursday, works by monitoring the way a person living with bipolar interacts with their digital devices, including their mobile phone.

SANE Australia chief executive officer Jack Heath said the app was the first of its kind in Australia to record and report information gained from a person’s everyday technology use and make this available to two people in a caring relationship.

“This app is an exciting step forward in harnessing technology to manage mental illness,” Heath said.

“We know people living with bipolar are 15 times more likely to die by suicide and we hope this app will help contribute to a reduction in avoidable deaths.”

The app continuously maps a person’s everyday interaction with technology to identify changes to their regular behaviour and alert individuals when potentially harmful patterns are detected.

The real-time data can also be shared with mental health professionals to help inform ongoing treatment.

Jesse and Ash Millar with son Ned

Jesse and Ash Millar with son Ned

It was developed with the support of people living with bipolar disorder, as well as University of New South Wales head of psychiatry Professor Philip Mitchell, mobile technology specialist Dr Rod Farmer, Faruk Avdi, Isobar Australia and Mobile Experience.

Gandel Philanthropy provided seed funding for the app’s development and a non-clinical trial.

For the next stage, SANE Australia is calling for 400 people to take part in a three-month non-clinical trial of the app from July.

Mitchell said the app could help people living with bipolar to ward off the impacts of an episode of mania which can be severe and long-lasting.

“All too often mania is only detected only when it’s too late to take preventative action and this can have terrible impacts for not only the individual, but also for those close to them,” Mitchell said.

“Mania can lead to drug use, intense irritability, excessive spending, gambling, extreme sexual promiscuity, delusion, paranoia and hallucination, and can have consequences including employment loss, loss of savings and relationship breakdowns.”

SANE Australia speaker Jesse Millar, who lives with bipolar, said he knows these consequences of mania all too well.  

“During periods of mania, I lose sight of the priorities in my life, the ability to listen to those around me, and I’m not able to manage my life effectively,” Millar said.

“All I want to do is ‘feed the high’, whether that be by excessive spending, drinking, overworking, not sleeping, or any other means, I just want to run wild.”

His wife Ash Millar said her husband’s episodes of mania impacted his family and “much heartache” could be avoided if the episodes could be prevented.

“When my husband is in a period of mania, I become confused and disheartened, unsure of the man I will wake up next to,” Ash said.  

“It’s an immensely stressful time for me as I set aside my own needs and find myself feeling guilty as it becomes increasingly difficult to support his mental illness.”

To express an interest in taking part of the trial see here.

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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