BY PRANJALI SEHGAL
An innovative mental health app by Monash graduates is breaking the mould by including peer support as part of the equation.
Voice of Health (VOH) is a new preventative mental health app devised as a platform to provide its users with a simple and affordable interactive support space.
The founders, James Hatchman and Luke Karabatsos stem from different disciplines but their shared passion for mental health and common identification of Australian healthcare gaps inspired them to develop VOH.
Mr Karabatsos and his co-founder believe innumerable barriers often prevent people from seeking mental health support.
These barriers include the availability of healthcare professionals, location, time, financial restrictions, stigma concerns, preference to self-manage, physical challenge and disability.
“Our preventative mental health solution offers greater convenience, accessibility, affordability, scalability and support while never letting go of the human element that cannot be replaced by technology,” Mr Karabatsos said.
Both Mr Hatchman and Mr Karabatsos have had their own experiences with mental health which led to the development of VOH.
Mr Hatchman was influenced by his family and friends’ mental health challenges and his involvement in assisting with their recovery.
On the other hand, Mr Karabatsos has a long-standing relationship with anxiety and understands first-hand just how life-crippling the experience can be.
“Our drive was strengthened through my lived experience,” Mr Karabatsos said.
“When I was at my lowest low, I wished I had someone there that could have just listened to me and empathised with what I was experiencing as so many would provide advice, but rarely anyone would just listen - this is where Voice of Health started,” he said.
The platform seeks to establish itself as a platform where users’ voices are heard and they aim to do so by promoting the power of “Active Listening” on the app.
Active Listeners are peer volunteers who aim to utilise their lived-experiences to support others by providing them with personalised, empathetic and goal-orientated support.
“As a user, the journey to enrol and start talking with an Active Listener has specifically been made as seamless and stress-free as possible,” Mr Karabatsos said.
On downloading the app, a user is required to view onboarding information, login in and update details before they can approach an Active Listener and start receiving support.
However, VOH is an app designed to empower peer support and not all Active Listeners have formal qualifications or a background in psychology.
Therefore to ensure they gain the skills required, each Active Listener is required to complete VOH’s free Active Listener training course.
The Active Listeners are also asked to identify the areas they feel comfortable supporting people in, or have had a lived experience in, along with controlling the number of conversations they are comfortable having.
The VOH app allows users to approach Active Listeners first as the founders aim to provide them with the flexibility of choice.
“Typically, you are referred to a psychologist that may or may not meet your needs and be a good fit for you,” Mr Karabatsos said.
“Our platform allows individuals to try different Active Listeners until they find the one that is a perfect fit based on their lived experience,” he added.
An experienced Active Listener, Cassi Le Good believes the training is well formulated as it combines informative content with interactive activities and opportunities for reflection.
“It’s evident when you start the training that much thought and time has gone into developing it, as I felt much more confident in what was expected of me as an Active Listener,” Ms Le Good said.
“The training also accounts on how to balance providing people the best support I can, whilst also taking care of my own mental health.”
Telling her own story, Ms Good said she herself has experienced challenges associated with seeking mental health support within the traditional health care system in Australia.
The simplicity of the app, on the other hand, makes it user-friendly and drives one to believe the developers actually want to support their users and get them help at the earliest.
“I experienced the despondency that can come with being pushed through countless doctors, therapists and specialists only to feel like I still hadn’t found the right support or someone who can truly empathise,” Ms Le Good said.
“It can become extremely frustrating and tiring and I think that’s a big reason many people either give up trying to find help or just don’t do it, to begin with.”
As of August, Voice of Health has around 400 individuals enrolled in the Active Listening Training Course over the recent months and around 250 users receiving support through the app.
The app is currently only available on IOS and the Android version is expected to be released this month.