Soldier’s personal experience drives innovation in mental health
Sydney, 10 September, 2018 - World Suicide Prevention Day – A text message from a friend was the wake-up call former soldier Chris Rhyss Edwards needed to stop a suicide attempt. That experience was the catalyst for Chris to turn a business idea into a real-life intervention for people struggling with their mental health.
With the help of the HCF Catalyst accelerator program, Chris’ start-up company Soldier.ly received the support it needed 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.
Between 2001 and 2015, there were 325 suicides among people who had served in the Australian defence force. More than half (51%) were no longer serving at the time of their death.
“My episodes of depression and PTSD cost me my marriage and almost my life. I would not have asked for help on my own at that point, even though I was struggling with very poor mental health. I needed that text message from my friend on the day I almost attempted suicide to take me out of that dangerous state of mind,” said Chris.
Before participating in the HCF Catalyst program, Chris had an idea to develop an app that would allow people experiencing stress, depression and PTSD to seek help by inputting information about their current state.
“It was the mentoring and support from the HCF Catalyst program that allowed me to nurture my business idea and create the Soldier.ly app. By utilising Fitbit’s smartwatch capabilities, we now can provide people with a solution that doesn’t rely on self-reporting. Social stigma is a significant barrier stopping veterans from seeking help for mental health issues, making them more likely to contemplate suicide,” said Chris.
The Soldier.ly app is like a buddy system for smart devices. It 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 those experiencing a mental health episode can see what services are available to them within a 1km radius.
Since participating in the 12-week accelerator program with HCF, Chris is now focused on working with the University of Technology Sydney Life Sciences Neuroscience Lab and Fitbit to conduct the world’s first study into using wearable devices to measure stress by tracking a range of behavioural biometric data.
Chris kept in contact with the team at HCF after the program. They are now exploring the option of trialling the Soldier.ly technology with HCF staff.
“I’m very fortunate to have had the opportunity to participate in a program that provides mentoring, marketing and infrastructure support to Australian entrepreneurs, like myself, who are looking to help
people in the healthcare space. It has opened so many doors because I was given the opportunity to share Soldier.ly with HCF executives and potential investors.”
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.
“We are proud to support entrepreneurs like Chris who are driven to help improve the lives of others. Soldier.ly aligns with HCF’s vision to help Australians take better care of their health and wellbeing and is a great example of how technology can help improve health outcomes.”
“Mental health, is such an enormous issue in Australia. One in five Australians experience a mental illness in any year, but only half of these people will seek treatment . At HCF, we want to provide health solutions that are accessible to our members and to all Australians that can address some of these issues. We want to empower people to better recognise their mental state and take the necessary steps to improve their mental wellbeing.” 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/
 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/veterans/incidence-of-suicide-in-adf-personnel-2001-2015/contents/summary
 Black Dog Institute Facts and figures about mental health, https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/docs/default-source/factsheets/facts_figures.pdf?sfvrsn=8
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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