When CAMH Clinical Psychologist and Scientist Dr. Sean Kidd started looking around for apps that support people with psychosis, he came up empty.
“There are thousands of apps for anxiety and depression, but almost nothing for psychosis,” he says.
Now, in a joint venture with a Toronto-based company that specializes in digital health care technologies called MEMOTEXT Corporation, Dr. Kidd and colleagues have developed a Beta version of an app that uses a Facebook-like platform designed for people with schizophrenia and other psychoses.
A4i, also called AppforIndependence, was designed to help people with schizophrenia manage their condition in a variety of ways, including:
- A curated news feed that includes daily medication reminders and upcoming appointments and events
- Evidence-based information on strategies to cope with symptoms and available resources
- Peer-to-peer strategy sharing
- Personalized crisis tools for illness management that can be shared with health care providers
- An ambient noise recorder to differentiate between real sounds and hallucinations.
The app was developed with extensive feedback from people with psychosis and other stakeholders and uses an algorithm to personalize the type and amount of content people receive.
“It’s all about illness self-management, providing people with schizophrenia with more ability to manage their own illness and to augment what is available through formal health care supports,” says Dr. Kidd, Chief Science Officer of A4i on the app project.
To test the usefulness and functionality of the app, Dr. Kidd and MEMOTEXT CEO Amos Adler have been putting it in the hands of people with lived experience of schizophrenia.
Jesse Bigelow, a patient advocate, is one of them.
“I think it’s groundbreaking,” he says. “I thought the feature where if you hear voices you can record ambient sound to see if they are really there – I thought that was pretty cool.”
He especially liked the peer-to-peer support options.
“Psychiatrists do great work, but for real connection and support it’s important to engage with people with lived experience. You are on the same level and understand each other.”
For Dr. Kidd, the feature that allows users of the app to document their level of wellness and day-to-day progress towards goals can also provide important information for health care providers that they might not get otherwise.
“If you see a psychiatrist once a month and have memory challenges or other issues that can hamper communication in short visits, this app can help fill in those gaps,” says Dr. Kidd.
In June, Dr. Kidd, Adler and Bigelow discussed the app at BIO, a large biotech conference in Boston attended by thousands of delegates from dozens of countries. The next step towards getting the app to market is a clinical trial and validating the technology at other clinical sites. If all goes well, they hope to get a final version of the app into the hands of more people like Bigelow in the next couple years.
For Bigelow, who won a CAMH Transforming Lives Award in 2009 and still does volunteer work for CAMH, being a part of a project like this that could help thousands of people with schizophrenia like himself is a point of pride.
“When I was first diagnosed, I didn’t know if I could make it through the next day,” says Bigelow. “Over the years I have become more accepting that I have a lot to give. I have some good insight and try to use it wherever I can to educate people inside and outside the mental health world so they can know that there is life after a diagnosis.”
Dr. Kidd’s hope is that the A4i app will soon be able to help many more people with schizophrenia like Bigelow.
A4i has received support to date from the CAMH Foundation and the Slaight Family Centre for Youth in Transition. Other CAMH collaborators include Klara Vichnevetski in the CAMH Technology Transfer Office and Dr. Kwame McKenzie and Dr. Aristotle Voineskos.
A4i has also been named as one of 10 startups changing healthcare by Scientific American.