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When she was on maternity leave from her marketing job Nuala Murphy read a number of mum blogs and realised that many were talking about their struggles with mental health issues. As she became more aware of how the health system was failing women she was spurred to take action and to set up her own business to try to address the problem. “When you are pregnant it is all about the baby, but the mum has to be healthy too, both physically and mentally. Mental health issues for new mums can affect the whole family and have a generational impact,” she says.
It is thought that perinatal mental health problems affect between 10% to 20% of women during pregnancy and the first year after having a baby and statistics show that 23% of British women who died between six weeks and one year after pregnancy died from mental-health causes, with 14% of this figure dying by suicide. The demand for more information and support is clear.
Just over half a year after formally launching her business – a maternal mental health app – Nuala has won recognition from Startups.co.uk by making it onto its Startups 100 list.
Although she has always been driven, Nuala had tended to prefer a behind the scenes role. But her research showed how big the problem was and that drove her to build her business idea, doing all her market research and working with clinicians on the evidence to support it. She held workshops and got mentoring support. In early 2017, she did a pitch for investment which was so successful it turned into a conversation about buying equity in the business. She has since received £250,000 from Pentech Ventures and TechStart NI to develop the Moment Health app. The app is directed at mums and workplaces who want to support women transition back to work after maternity leave and address some of the unspoken mental health challenges, including ante-natal and post-natal depression.
In its first week of going live, Moment Health became the number one ranked UK health and fitness app on the App Store, showing the scale of the problem. The app is also in a clinical trial with Ulster University which she says is showing significant results.
Nuala, who is based in Belfast, says she couldn’t have done it without her enthusiastic co-founder and Chief Technical Officer Gavin Rooney who has worked for some of the biggest mobile companies. There are four full-time staff in the company and four contractors. “All of them have a close experience of the challenges around maternal mental health,” says Nuala, who has two children aged four and three.
For employers the focus is on promoting open conversations between managers, HR and employees around mental health, for instance, through lunch and learn sessions, and including mental health in well being packages for women going on maternity leave. “We want to be the key to unlock conversations between managers and HR and employees by giving them the tools they need to speak about any mental health issues they have,” says Nuala. “Managers mostly want to look after their employees’ well being and there is a huge business benefit in this, but they often lack the information they need. Our big mission is to make maternal mental health mainstream.”
That includes working with partners because Nuala says maternal depression can also trigger anxiety for them.
The app includes an evidence-based symptom checker and a mood tracker to help women track their mood at different stages in the day so they can understand how they are feeling. “They will need this evidence to get a diagnosis from their GP. Women tell us they sometimes don’t answer the questions directly because they are worried their children will be taken away or maybe they are having a good day when they speak to the GP and the problem is missed. The tracker helps to get them the early intervention they need,” says Nuala, adding that women often see health professionals when things have got to crisis point.
Research shows that 80-90% of prenatal and postnatal depression sufferers fully recover with early intervention.
The app also includes geolocation access to support services in their area or at their workplace and a moderated, non-judgmental community where women can get support on issues including how to talk to their manager about concerns about returning to work if they suffer from mental health issues.
She is currently bidding for more investment to build her team and says that process is also about educating investors.
Nuala says the fact that the app is evidence-based is crucial as it makes the case for employers investing in mental well being clear.
“Working mums tend to be very productive employees,” says Nuala. “They don’t usually leave work because they have a family these days. They leave for other reasons such as mental health issues. We want to make a difference across the board and make mental health issues mainstream.”