Firstly, apologies for the lack of posts over the last few weeks, unfortunately there has been sickness in the family.
But I’m back on track now and it seems timely that today’s interview is with an innovative UK based social health brand, Big White Wall.
I contacted Jenny Hyatt, CEO of Big White Wall to learn more about this new concept, in an Innovate or Die exclusive.
What is the Big White Wall all about?
Big White Wall is an early intervention service available 24/7 for people in psychological distress. It combines social networking principles with a choice of clinically informed interventions to improve mental wellbeing.
One of the most important aspects of Big White Wall is that it offers a safe environment where people can express themselves without fear of consequence.
It can be accessed 24/7 and has staff (Wall Guides) who are trained counsellor and who ensure the full engagement, safety and anonymity of all members.
Big White Wall is a community of people who are experiencing common mental health problems who are supported to self-manage their own mental health.
What inspired the development of the Big White Wall
I am unemployable so have spent most of my career setting up social purpose organisations. Previously I was on the Board of International Samaritans as well as working closely with telephone helplines. I have always felt there is a need for people to easily share what is troubling them anonymously.
The Internet offers a new and more engaging form of helpline and so long as issues of safety online are taken seriously it offers a potential lifeline.
Where did the name Big White Wall come from?
It is big as it is an infinite space for human emotion
It is white as it provides a blank canvas for open, honest and anonymous expression
It is a wall as it provides support and strength to those who may be feeling emotionally vulnerable as well as signalling the walls we often have to break through to feel better about and within ourselves
Who is your site for and what is special about them?
It’s primarily for people experiencing mild to moderate anxiety, depression and other common mental health problems. We do also get people coming through who have more complex or longer-term problems.For these people we can offer temporary crisis management, with the benefits of engaging with a community and a resource for after-hours support when there are no other services available.
Big White Wall offers a community which people can become part of and in doing so feel less isolated or alone. I think the power of the community is what’s special and each person who uses the service is part of that.
How is Big White Wall different to other support services?
The fact that it’s an online service sets it apart, as traditional support services either are either face-to-face or telephone. Obviously there can be expense and waiting times involved in these more typical services.
In contrast, as an online service, members of Big White Wall can obtain immediate support at a time and in an environment that suits them. And with a low fee of less than £2 a week, the service is significantly cheaper than prescriptions or counseling.
Another thing that sets Big White Wall apart is its effectiveness. While traditional ‘talking’ therapies, and in some cases medication, have not always been proven to be effective in treating mental health issues, independent studies show that nearly 100% of people feel better having used the site and 75% deem the service to be more useful than more traditional forms of support.
One reason that the service is so effective is also another way in which it’s different from other support services – members remain completely anonymous throughout their time with Big White Wall.
This means they have the immediate access to a range of services, and can engage with all the groups, professionals and individuals on the site, without any fear of repercussions on work or social life. This is very powerful and can really aid people’s progress in improving their wellbeing.
In comparison to traditional support services, Big White Wall is simply unique in that it combines the principles of social networking, the power of community and clinically informed therapeutic interventions.
How is social media affecting psychology?
We’re focused on how social media can affect approaches to mental wellbeing and within that the psychology of the traditional patient-doctor dynamic, and how people perceive themselves vis-a-vis their health. Social media can give the opportunity for people to become co-creators of them own health journeys. It can do this by transforming the bases on which we make decisions about our health and how we engage with health professionals.
In a medical model of health, we are patients carrying descriptions of pain and dysfunction with the expectation of an expert opinion on how these are to be reduced or removed. In a social model of health, we move from patient to activist by taking a shared role in understanding and managing our condition.
Social media exposes us to a much greater range of information, experience and opinion from both peers and professionals. It can enable us to engage more directly and equally with professionals through online programmes and communities to arrive at a diagnosis, to explore treatment options and to negotiate health outcomes.
It can also mitigate the loneliness of ill-health. Mobile and digital devices can allow us to track elements of our health and share these with others, and also remind us to take medications or let ‘buddies’ know how we are progressing.
We can see social media making an impact on mental wellbeing and psychology at the political level. David Cameron’s so-called ‘Big Society’ emphasises the importance of community and self-direction and services like Big White Wall reflect the growing social trend to informed use of social media and online communities.
How are you marketing the Big White Wall?
There are many different groups that we market to, from GPs who may wish to recommend it to their patients, to specific groups such as army veterans or students, to the public at large. At this stage our marketing is based on introducing the service to everyone and then informing these different groups about the benefits to them.
We continue to develop a suite of marketing collateral including presentations, posters, information sheets, videos and cards. Social media is also becoming increasingly important to our marketing although the anonymity of our members online impacts on our ability to go viral.
For industry contacts, we also have a newsletter that we send and we’re looking at further developing the Big White Wall website to become a resource for press and industry as well as a home for the service.
Our press coverage has also complemented our marketing efforts and we’ve scored some good hits with articles in national papers including the Guardian along with BBC television coverage.
What has been the most rewarding part of starting the Big White Wall?
That 95% of those using the service say they feel better as a result.Daily I see people voice their worst concerns and watch others turn towards them rather than away. We see members take the most feared first step to change and that is powerful stuff.
What has been the hardest part?
Finding new ways to apologise to my family that I have to work, capped by my daughter declaring at seven that she wants to work for Big White Wall when she grows up so she can spend more time with her mum!
What is the best business advice you have ever received?
Leave when you know you have reached the limits of others’ patience.
What’s next for the Big White Wall?
Our customer base continues to grow – we currently have over 6000 people using the service. It is being rolled out across in many areas of the UK through GPs, health and local authorities, the Work Programme, universities and employers.
Also we have been commissioned by the Department of Health and Ministry of Defence to reach veterans, serving personnel and their families. Then there is a pilot in Australia…..
We have got some interesting service and product developments in the pipeline. The details are hush hush at the moment but we’re looking forward to announcing these in the Autumn.
Due to this activity, Big White Wall has recently taken on new staff and we are considering a move into new offices. We’re looking at the next 18 months being an exceptionally busy time!
Finally, what is one piece of advice you would give someone wanting to start their own online business?
Be prepared to constantly reinvent and sometimes that means letting go.