Guest post by Deborah Coughlin, founder of Wakey
In November, mental health focused breakfast TV app Wakey kindly sponsored Mary Raftopoulos’ guest post on mental illness in the Black community (which is now also featured on the Wakey app!) Here, founder Deborah Coughlin writes about how her own personal experiences inspired the app, and what its mission is.
If you had told me two and a bit years ago that I would one day be the founder and CEO of a tech company – which is solving the problem of scalable, mass-market prevention of poor mental health, with Chris Taylor from Love Island and comedy drag queen Ginger Johnson – I’d have called you the crazy one. How would anyone even start off a thing like that? That’s the stuff of Ivy League PhDs and MBAs, crack coders, mental health professionals and maverick tech Willy Wonkas – who are mainly white, male, and monied.
Money is not something that has come easily to me. I grew up in a household with a poverty mindset – as in, my family had experienced poverty and never wanted to experience it again. It was tense and scary, even as my boomer parents lived the 20th century’s social mobility dream of becoming kinda-middle class, we never really seemed to feel like we belonged there. We lived in fear of the card being declined at the checkout, and our car had holes in the floor that I’d watch the road through until it inevitably broke down, which it did weekly.
Money and mental health are often completely wrapped up together. If you’re mentally ill, you’re more likely to be struggling with money; if you’re struggling with money, you’re more likely to be mentally ill. The fact is, the less money you have, the more likely you are to struggle with your mental health – and yet, perversely, you’re also less likely to have access to the right help.
My doctor, my family, my friends, they had no idea what I needed when I had a breakdown in my mid 20s. I had first been diagnosed with depression and anxiety at 16, and was given an SSRI prescription and 6 weeks of Christian counselling. I was back at 19… SSRI prescription and 6 weeks of counselling. Back at 22… SSRI prescription and on a 4 month waiting list for 6 weeks of CBT. Then bang, I stopped functioning with seizure-like panic attacks and agoraphobia. I was signed off work, lost my job, the PPI didn’t pay up, and I was flooded with threatening letters from the banks, barely able to keep a roof over my head, taking SSRIs, and on yet another waiting list for CBT. It wasn’t working. But what the fuck else was there?
Very randomly I was given a book, by a very generous local poet. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing. It’s a portrait of a feminist, Marxist, 60s north London liberal artsy world, where the main female protagonist is a writer with a block, a very exciting love life and a therapist. In this world, psychotherapy was a perfectly normal part of life, like taking the bins out or buying a gym membership. And this was 50 something years ago. It seemed like this is exactly what I needed – why hadn’t I been offered it? Money. Basically – and this is very basic, skipping the complicated history of the development of the plethora of therapies out there, but basically… CBT is cheaper.
I went to my doctors in slippers, in a nightie, and on crutches (long story, but that was how things rolled at the time). I begged – please could I have psychotherapy? CBT wasn’t working. Things were getting worse, not better, over time. No. A nurse, who overheard the conversation came up to me and said she knew of a woman who offered sliding scale psychodynamic therapy. She handed me a phone number. That’s when my life changed.
Over 8 years of weekly affordable therapy – even when I couldn’t afford it, she still saw me – I went from not functioning to surviving, from surviving to stable, from stable to thriving. I never went back on SSRIs during this time, haven’t been to my doctors about mental health since, I am reliable, contribute to society, and create opportunities for others. And all of this was by chance. A nosey nurse, who happened to know someone. None of this should be left to chance.
Another way of looking at how and why I started Wakey is that, over the past decade, I have been a creative entrepreneur, with multiple critically acclaimed projects. I found myself working at the BBC, with a book deal, when I heard about a tech-for-good incubator called Zinc. I had a supportive partner who told me I should apply, even though I didn’t have an MBA or a PhD. I got on, and then followed their process – which is to answer the question: where is the gap for a tech product or service that will serve 100 million people AND solve one of the developed world’s biggest problems? And it became obvious, through deep research and rapid testing, that mass market mental health prevention is that problem and opportunity.
The real reason is that the information people need, in order to have happier healthier lives, is out there. But it’s very much chance and good luck that you will end up with it. You would need to be born into a world where it is normalised, where the narratives and values of the institutions of therapy are accessible and attractive to you. Where you have the networks to understand what’s available, and where you are empowered both through education and resources (money and time) to take up on what is on offer and what will work for you. Psychological healing is not one size fits all; it is not SSRIs and CBT for everyone.
So Wakey is the first iteration from our amazing team, which includes world-beating mental health researchers and clinicians, genius tech geeks and story-telling pros, to figure out how to democratise the information that can make people’s lives happier and healthier, before they ever hit a crisis. To share the scientifically proven knowledge that can make life so much easier. To make it attractive, accessible, to make it fun! To normalise, destigmatise, give practical information and valuable networks. And we started with a lighthearted entertaining breakfast show, to help everyone start their day off right. It’s developing every day. Join us.
Wakey! Is the interactive breakfast show app, designed to get you out of bed and improve your mental wellbeing – it’s never been more needed! Download now from the link below.