Soldier’s experience inspires new tech for veterans’ mental health
Sydney, 24 September, 2018 – Veterans Health Week - A text message from a friend was the wake-up call former soldier Chris Rhyss Edwards needed to stop a suicide attempt. Chris is now drawing from his own experience to deliver mental health support to veterans using the latest technology.
Chris’ start-up company Soldier.ly received support from the HCF Catalyst accelerator program to develop a smartwatch app that uses biometric data to detect the early stages of stress and anxiety which then offers prompts and easy-to-follow exercises to help manage these symptoms.
Chris’ own experiences with depression and PTSD, triggered by his experience as an active soldier, inspired him to provide an accessible solution to help reduce the incidence of suicide in veterans.
More than 5,000 men and women leave the Australian Defence Force each year. Many of them struggle with adapting to everyday life following their service. Between 2001 and 2015, there were 325 suicides among people who served in the Australian defence force.
“Many veterans do not like to ask for help. Social stigma is a big barrier stopping veterans from seeking support for mental health issues, making them more likely to contemplate suicide. On the day I almost attempted suicide, that text message from my friend was what took me out of a dangerous state of mind. In that moment, I was not reaching out for help on my own,” said Chris.
Chris’s original app idea would have required veterans to input information about their current mental state. HCF Catalyst program inspired him to take his idea to the next level, and create a program that does not rely on veterans to self-report their symptoms.
“The mentoring and support I received from the HCF Catalyst program allowed me to expand my business idea into something greater. I was able to develop the Soldier.ly app, which utilises Fitbit’s smartwatch capabilities, to give veterans support that doesn’t rely on self-reporting.”
The Soldier.ly app sends alerts via the smartwatch app when signs of stress appear and the partner smartphone app guides you through breathing exercises, mindful meditation and visualisation techniques. It also hosts a database of Ex-Service Organisations across Australia, so veterans experiencing a mental health episode can see what services are available to them within a 1km radius.
Since participating in HCF’s 12-week accelerator program, Chris has been collaborating with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs to make the technology more accessible to veterans.
Chris is planning to expand Soldier.ly to make it available to the general population. He is also exploring the option of trialling the app with HCF staff.
“I am grateful to have been connected to HCF CEO Sheena Jack through the HCF Catalyst program. She provided me with advice and connections that allowed the business to grow significantly in a short period of time. We are now looking forward to working with HCF executives to test the technology.”
Sheena Jack, Chief Executive Officer at HCF, was the driving force behind the development of the HCF Catalyst program. When it was established in 2015 as Australia’s first corporate-backed health tech accelerator, the program represented an opportunity to foster innovation in areas that aligned with HCF’s strategic vision to make health care understandable, affordable, high quality and customer centric.
“Our entire organisation gets behind the HCF Catalyst program. It is inspiring for us to be able to work with entrepreneurs like Chris who are dedicated to improving the lives of others.”
“The issue of mental health goes beyond the veterans’ community. One in five Australians experience a mental illness in any year, but only half of these people will seek treatment.  Through the HCF Catalyst program, we are able to support the development of health solutions making health services accessible to our members and all Australians through new and innovative technology,” said Ms Jack.
The HCF Catalyst program is in its fourth year and welcomes entrepreneurs who want to transform the future of healthcare delivery. Applications for the 2019 HCF Catalyst program open in October. For more information, visit hcfcatalyst.slingshotters.com
For more information about the Soldier.ly app visit http://soldier.ly/
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HCF, Australia’s largest not-for-profit health fund protecting people since 1932, covers around 1.5 million members with health and life insurance, community care, travel and pet insurance. On average over the last five years, HCF has paid out more cents in every dollar in premiums to members as benefits than the industry average. With over 35,000 specialists participating in its Medical Gap Cover Scheme and approximately 10,000 providers participating in its 100% back More for You programs, HCF gives members access to quality healthcare with no gaps or minimal costs compared to non-participating providers. To empower members to put their health first, HCF also offers a range of health and lifestyle services including its My Health Guardian health management program, mobile Victor Chang Heart Health Checks and My Global Specialist second opinion service. HCF’s national network of retail outlets and Australian-based call centres have earned multi-award winning status. HCF members also have access to low cost, high quality services at HCF Dental Centres. Having contributed $50 million to support the health services research funded by the HCF Research Foundation, HCF is devoted to investing in the future of Australia’s health. To learn more about HCF go to hcf.com.au/about-us
 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/veterans/incidence-of-suicide-in-adf-personnel-20012015/contents/summary
 Black Dog Institute Facts and figures about mental health, https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/docs/defaultsource/factsheets/facts_figures.pdf?sfvrsn=8