These are photos from the moment we went live… we had known for a day or so that we could in theory press the button at any moment, but it took a Skype call with the development company, the amazing Systango, and a bottle of prosecco to actually press the button!
This is the culmination of a dream that has been a long time in the making. Mental Snapp is video diary app for people actively managing their mental health, and we formed the company back in June 2015. But the idea has been brewing in me, and been informed by, an 18 year career in the twin fields of mental health and film.
Pivotal moments in the formation of the ambition include a 2003 study I took part in written by the Kings Fund and commissioned by Mental Health Media, looking at how people feedback on mental health services on film as opposed to on paper. The report found that people feel heard and attended to by telling their stories on camera, which they don’t to the same extent in telling their stories to someone writing them down. I was behind the camera operating it, and nodding in response to them, but I started to form the theory that there was something intrinsic in our relation to cameras as authority figures and confessors that can be therapeutic in itself. Another pivotal moment was my student film, ‘The Great Psychiatric White Elephant’ when one of the interviewees explained how she felt when she took the intimidating path up the hill to see a psychiatrist based in Claybury Hospital, an old water tower hospital. ‘He put his head down, and he wrote. And that is all I saw of him…’ – she bent her head and patted the top of it – ‘…for an hour. No sort of human contact at all’.
So I suppose the seeds of the idea were there in my very first film. The problem of what happens when you have your story told for you, you don’t have a chance to articulate your own history. It creates dependence. It means that you rely on being validated by ‘the professionals’, and the medical model becomes central to your life. We want to look at the social model of mental health, where you create your own record.
The power of the camera is that it is one of our most primal relationships, certainly for most people in the West. We have three early relationships – Mummy, Daddy, Camera. Telling your stories on camera means that being listened to and heard can be things that you do for yourself, in contrast to relying on services – they can be ways in which you care for yourself. It is not that the service user goes into the psychiatrist’s office, and into the psychiatrist’s world, it is that the service user goes into that office with authority, knowing their history, and invites the psychiatrist into their own world. That is the social model, the individual in their social context, empowered with their own expertise. And that creates independence.
That’s the goal. We’ve learnt a lot on the way, since June 2015 when we formed the company. Thanks to our amazing funders, UnLtd, we conducted a year’s worth of market research, focus groups and testing. And thanks to the incredible support we’ve had from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and the Ideas and Pioneers Fund we’ve been lucky enough to get together a group of service users who met regularly to consult on our plans and we now have the prototype developed and on the App Store. The next steps are that it will be tested in 2 NHS settings within Camden and Islington NHS Trust and one community setting the Dragon Cafe in Southwark over a three month period and independently evaluated by a consortium of universities led by London Southbank. A report will be ready in the autumn, but we are already planning future iterations and a route to market that will make the product available to communities and individuals at low cost and accessibly.
So the goal we set ourselves, which is a big one, is achieved one little step at a time. The first step we took after taking this photo was to press that button. The second was to take a long swig of prosecco… and toast to the future. Thank you everyone who has been sharing in our journey. You’ve been, and are, brilliant. And anyone new who wants to get in touch – here are the deets – @mentalsnapp, firstname.lastname@example.org www.mentalsnapp.com.