Press release: The Professional Cricketers’ Association have launched an innovative new app to help players reduce stress and anxiety

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Press release: The Professional Cricketers’ Association have launched an innovative new app to help players reduce stress and anxiety

The PCA have worked in partnership with Virtually Free to develop an app which uses four proven relaxation techniques which help reduce stress: calm breathing, meditation, deep muscle relaxation and self-hypnosis.


The app features "Dr Freeman", a virtual doctor, who provides easy to follow demonstrations to teach relaxation techniques and also provides a journal and daily goals to keep people engaged. The app is introduced by Marcus Trescothick, the Somerset and former England batsman, who is supporting the ‘Stress Free’ app.


Marcus states: “We all experience stress and anxiety every day but at times this can be so extreme that it becomes an illness. When it gets to that level it can stop us from getting on with our lives or doing the things we love, like playing cricket,”


“We at the PCA take stress-related illnesses very seriously and we want to raise awareness of them. We want to build a culture that acknowledges that it is OK not to be OK. Our aim is to help our members prevent them when possible or seek help in the early stages if not.” 


“As part of this initiative we have teamed up with a talented team of clinicians and software developers to offer ‘Stress Free’ to our members.”


“This app teaches you to practise four different relaxation techniques which have all shown to be effective in clinical trials. These can help de-stress when anxiety is getting on top of us, but they can also help us become more resilient to stress in general. In particular meditation can build our ability to cope with stress.”


“Just like we take training our body really seriously ‘Stress Free’ encourages us to practice relaxation skills frequently and train your resilience. You cannot focus on your body and forget your mind. You need both to win the game. We hope ’Stress Free’ will help you achieve your goals."


The ‘Stress Free’ app is the latest initiative from the PCA in putting place measures to help reduce stress-related illnesses.


Virtually Free was formed by Consultant Psychiatrists and games developers in order to use technology to provide high quality and accessible psychological help.


“Stress Free is part of our toolkit and picks up the excellent proactive and preventative work being done by the team of Personal Development Managers and resilience sessions with counties across the country run by our partner LPP,” said Jason Ratcliffe, Assistant Chief Executive of the PCA.


“It is an extension of the ‘Mind Matters’ tutorial which we launched three years ago and which has had valuable input from Tim Ambrose, Mike Yardy, Marcus Trescothick, Darren Cousins, Graeme Fowler, Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison.”


“We have also provided all of our members with a special copy of Dr Tim Cantopher’s book ‘Depression – The Curse of the Strong’.”


“We know that one in four of us will be affected by a mental health episode in any year and ‘Stress Free’ is another tool which we hope will help people to cope with anxiety issues in a very private and personal environment.”


Dr Russell Green, Consultant Psychiatrist and co-founder of Virtually Free commented: “These simple but effective treatments are well founded in clinical medical practice and we are providing versions of ‘Stress Free’ to major organisations that wish to take a proactive approach towards managing stress related issues within their populations. We hope that by making the treatments available through accessible technology we can help players of elite sport and others alleviate some of the pressures they face.”      


Christopher Rees, Commercial Director of Virtually Free said “We are delighted to have worked with Marcus Trescothick and the PCA on this initiative and to contribute to the excellent work undertaken by the Association in providing psychological therapy to the players. High profile sportspeople like Marcus act as powerful role models in raising awareness, influencing others and changing culture not just in sport but in organisations and wider society.” 

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Pitch @ Palace

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Pitch @ Palace

Virtually Free was one of the 42 selected companies taking part in The Duke of York's Pitch @ Palace. The event, organised and powered by the Duke of York, aims to recognise entrepreneurial organisations working to ensure a better economic future for the UK.

On October 20 we attended the bootcamp in London and became one of the lucky 15 finalists. The prize: being able to pitch our idea in front of an audience of investors and influencers, and of course The Duke of York, at the St James's Palace on November 5.

Here's a short 1 minute video recorded during bootcamp. Dr Andrés Fonseca explains what Virtually Free aims to do. If you have the time, please vote for us in the link provided. There's a prize for the People's Choice Award voted through Facebook.

Voting link: poll.fm/f/506jf 

Thank you so much in advance!

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A visit to Cambridge University

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A visit to Cambridge University

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We were pleased to spend last Wednesday evening at Cambridge Universities Judge Business School. We've got a great opportunity to be part of their MBA programme which involves working with a team of five students researching an aspect of our business.

The evening was spent being given an overview of the school and the programme finishing with a meeting with the team we'll work with.

It was great to get new insights, perspectives and ideas from a group with vast experience. 

We finished the evening with a pint in The Eagle, a pub famous for a number of things including being the place Watson and Crick of DNA discovery fame drank.

We managed to grab the very seats they sat in so hopefully some of the genius rubbed off.  

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Awards, awards, awards!

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Awards, awards, awards!

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Last Thursday 9th of October our sister company Fuzzy Frog won an award to the Animation or videogame project at the Digital Entrepreneur Awards in Manchester for the game Real scary spiders, a videogame born from the knowledge acquired when developing Phobia Free. In fact, Virtually Free was nominated alongside them with Phobia Free. They beat Passion, the guys that develop the Compare the market adverts. Well done!!

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Next week we are running for another award. We are finalists at the TLA HeathTech 2014 Start-Up Competition 2014 which takes place next Thursday October 23 at Simmons & Simmons in London. Dr Russell Green will be pitching to win the competition against 11Health and Medshr. Good luck!

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But we don't stop there! We have also been nominated for the Appsters Awards taking place next November. We're running for three awards including App Developer of 2014, Best consumer app 2014 for Agoraphobia Free and Most Innovative app 2014 for Phobia Free. We're competing with companies such as ASOS, Tesco, TripAdvisor or British Gas!

What a month!

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Do you have agoraphobia? Get in touch!

Do you or someone you know, have agoraphobia? We are currently looking for 500 volunteers who suffer from this condition to take part in a clinical trial with the University of Roehampton in London.

The trial consists in using our new app, Agoraphobia Free and the aim to test its efficacy in treating the problem. The app uses Computerised Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which has been shown to be helpful already. In addition we use a few novel techniques that have not been tested yet and that is the purpose of the trial. We cannot reveal what they are exactly as that would invalidate the trial.

The trial involves going through the app and doing all the exercises it requires. It is expected most people will take around 5-6 weeks to complete the treatment but it can be done at whatever pace the person completing it finds best. The data will be analysed by researchers at University of Roehampton and the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College London. The trial has received ethical approval from University of Roehampton.

To get involved visit our agoraphobia free page and simply sign up. We will be in touch with the information sheet and consent form once we have reached 500 volunteers. You will not have agreed to participate until you sign the consent form and you can withdraw from the trial at any point without giving a reason. Participants will receive early access to the app which will be free to them.

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Press release: Therapeutic tech company Virtually Free announces latest app to tackle agoraphobia

On Wednesday 24 September 2014, Virtually Free, a tech company which makes apps to improve mental health, is announcing its latest project, Agoraphobia Free, set for launch in the first half of 2015, and is calling out for volunteers to take part in their clinical trials which will be running for the next couple of months. 

Agoraphobia is a severe disorder, characterised by anxiety in situations where the sufferer perceives certain environments as dangerous or uncomfortable, often due to the environment's vast openness or crowdedness. Today agoraphobia affects an estimated 3-6% of the population.  In the UK this means about three million people. The condition itself prevents sufferers from tackling it, stopping them from leaving the home to seek support, or attend therapy provided in clinics. Depending on the severity of the disorder, the treatment may require ongoing one-to-one home-based therapy and escorting the person around their surrounding area, but this is an extremely costly treatment and as such is very rarely provided.

Virtually Free’s latest therapeutic app, Agoraphobia Free, funded by social investor Nominet Trust, breaks this vicious cycle by helping sufferers overcome this limiting condition.  It replicates the two parts that make up traditional treatment, namely education and training, combined with exposure therapy, putting these techniques in the hands of the users, via their phones or tablets, thereby reducing or sometimes even eliminating the need for support staff or therapists.

Designed by two UK leading practicing consultant psychiatrists, Dr Andres Fonseca and Dr Russell Green, and developed by videogame legend Richard Flower, the app takes advantage of the same proven cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques used in clinical practice applied in this game.

How it works is the user of Agoraphobia Free must help Alex, a woman in her 30s who suffers from agoraphobia, make the decision to recover, enlisting Dr Freeman’s help. The user will be asked to apply what Alex learns to their own situation in real life. The app will then set and track the users’ own goals, and will include just-in-time interventions when needed. 

Virtually Free are currently recruiting 500 people to take part in the clinical trial of the Agoraphobia Free app working with the University of Roehampton. It is expected that Agoraphobia Free will be available for use in the first half of 2015. 

Dr Andres Fonseca, Virtually Free's co-founder and CEO says, “Agoraphobia Free is a very personal project. The idea came from meeting patients suffering from this condition and not being able to provide them with access to therapy. We believe Agoraphobia Free will put in their hands all they need to kickstart their recovery.”

Annika Small, CEO Nominet Trust says, “This proposal comes from a phenomenally strong team of experienced agoraphobia clinicians who have already made apps that use the virtual world to address physical needs. This is another visionary use of tech to tackle a hidden issue that causes very profound distress and problems to millions. Great stuff.”

Agoraphobia Free will be available for general use in 2015.

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Agoraphobia Free: the science behind it (Part 2)

Interpreting results of your RCT and other pitfalls

By: Andres Fonseca
On: 16th September 2014
Organisation name: Virtually Free


I wrote a previous post where I go through the basic steps when designing a randomised controlled trial. There is one more very important step which is the analysis of the data. RCTs usually compare means of a variable of interest. In our own trial we compare the mean score on the Panic and Agoraphobia Scale mount of energy consumed or they look at the chances of an event happening in the control group versus the chance of it happening in the intervention group. A lot of harm can be done if the wrong statistical method is picked and this may lead to drawing completely the wrong conclusion. There are a few concepts when reporting outcomes that are important to understand.

 

Effect size
So there is a difference between your intervention and doing nothing but, is it big enough to matter? Effect size is a measure of this.

Numbers needed to treat
Another measure of whether the difference you have made matters. Simply stated this is how many people do you need to go through your intervention for one extra person to get a favourable outcome. So if you are reducing youth unemployment this would be how many young people need to go through your programme to get one of them employed that would not have otherwise found a job.

Ethical considerations

Consent
Depending on what it is that you are trying to run a trial on you will probably need to obtain informed consent. This is actually quite a tricky process that would require its own blog post. Suffice it to say that simply asking is not enough in most cases.

Privacy and data management
There is a piece of law, the Data Protection Act 1998, that you need to comply with if you are gathering any data on anyone for an experiment like this. You will also very likely need to register with an organisation called the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Ethical approval
If you are doing anything that is remotely health-related you will need to gain ethical approval from either the NHS or the university which sponsors your trial. This is a tricky process that takes months. I have done this many, many times and it still took me 6 months to get my RCT through ethics.


More info
For an excellent guide on how to design an RCT here’s a 2003 paper written by J Kendall in the emergency medicine journal. It is medical as the RCT is usually used in medicine. Just ignore the medical bits, the methodology applies to almost anything where you think an intervention might bring about change.

 

Source: http://www.nominettrust.org.uk/what-we-support/blogs/interpreting-results-your-rct-and-other-pitfalls

Agoraphobia Free Pre-launches on September 24 in our event in Wayra London. Join us!!

 
 

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Agoraphobia Free: the science behind it (Part 1)

Four steps to designing an RCT

By: Dr Andres Fonseca
On: 12th September 2014
Organisation name: Virtually Free

Or how to find out if what you are doing really makes a difference

We are busy putting the finishing touches on Agoraphobia Free, an app we have created to deliver computerised cognitive behavioural therapy for the treatment of agoraphobia. When we first started the project we designed a double-blind randomised controlled trial (RCT for short) to find out if it actually treats the condition. We have only gained ethical approval about 2 months ago and we have not yet officially started recruitment. As you can see this is a lengthy process. Unfortunately it’s the only process that will really answer the question. An RCT is a type of experiment that has a very specific design: it is a trial that is randomised, double-blind and controlled. All of those words are important and mean something very specific. I promise you will understand them all by the end of the post.

How to design your own home-grown RCT

Step 1: find a measurable outcome
Say that you want to know if your ‘getting youth back into work’ app really does get young people back into work. In this case you have a clear outcome: number of young people you have managed to get back into work. This is important as on many occasions people in social ventures don’t have clear outcomes. You cannot do an experiment if you have no way of measuring the results. In Agoraphobia Free we use the Panic and Agoraphobia Scale as our main outcome measure. It is a validated symptom severity scale for the condition.

Step 2: controls
You have designed an app to curb violent street crime. So you launch it and measure violent street crime, right? The problem is that the crime rate may be going down by itself for other reasons and you may think your app made all the difference when it changed nothing; it was always going to go down. Or say that crime rate it is skyrocketing and—unknown to you—your app is actually amazingly effective. If it had not been there crime would have gone up much higher.

How do you make sure it is your intervention that is changing things and that things are not just changing by themselves? The answer is controls.

In our case we will select a group of 500 people suffering from agoraphobia. Half will have the intervention and half will have a placebo intervention. We will see how their results compare at the end of the trial.

Step 3: tossing coins
Imagine you are testing an app to reduce childhood obesity. You have carefully created two groups of kids to try it with. You have tried to make sure that the groups are comparable using a technique called matching. This is simply making sure that your controls are as similar as possible to your intervention group; particularly for those factors you know make a difference to the thing you are measuring. The percentage of boys to girls is the same, their ages are in the same range, they come from families with the same socio-economic background and they have the same family history of diabetes, etc.

Imagine now that that one of your groups has lots of kids with a particular genetic mutation that affects childhood obesity. They have ended up in the same group because you matched kids from two schools and it turns out all members of the extended family that has this genetic trait all live in this particular area and they all send their children to the same school. There is also the opportunity to introduce a bias when creating the groups and assigning participants who you think will benefit more to your intervention group and the ones you think are likely not to benefit to the control group.

The solution is randomising. Instead of dividing the children by school for convenience simply get someone independent to literally toss a coin so that there is an equal chance of ending up on either the control or intervention groups. This way you can’t influence where they end up and any factors you don’t know about will be distributed in your groups more or less equally by chance provided your groups are big enough.

In our trial a simple algorithm randomly decides what app the participant will download without us even knowing about it. We use a particular form of block randomisation to ensure equal numbers but I’m not going to go into that here.

Step 4: Blinding
We humans are very good at finding patterns—so good we tend to fool ourselves into seeing patterns when there is nothing there. If we have a pet theory we will inevitably seek out evidence that proves we are right and ignore evidence that shows we are wrong. This is called confirmation bias and it affects all of us. Yes, even you. When there are incentives involved our ability to fool ourselves is nothing short of astonishing.

This is the reason placebos are used when trying to decide whether a medicine works or not, neither the person taking the tablet nor the doctor giving the tablet should know if it’s the ‘real’ or the ‘dummy’ one. The doctor might be unconsciously favour the treatment when measuring borderline results or the person might try harder when they know they are on the ‘real treatment’ than when they are on placebo.

In our trial we use what is called an ‘active placebo’. If you are using an app that clearly is talking about agoraphobia or you are playing super mario you know whether you are on the treatment or not. We decided to use our existing app Stress Free that has a very similar design and actually helps reduce anxiety, but does not specifically address agoraphobia.

 

More info

So those are the basics for design. There is one other concept that is important: power which tells you how many participants you need to find a difference if there is one. This one is very technical and my advice is to get a good statistician that speaks human on board early.

For an excellent guide on how to design an RCT here’s a 2003 paper written by J Kendall in the emergency medicine journal. It is medical as the RCT is usually used in medicine. Just ignore the medical bits, the methodology applies to almost anything where you think an intervention might bring about change.

Source: http://www.nominettrust.org.uk/what-we-support/blogs/four-steps-to-designing-rct

Agoraphobia Free Pre-launches on September 24 in our event in Wayra London. Join us!!

 
 

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Virtually Free at the Dementia Hackaton with UCL, 13/14 September

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Virtually Free at the Dementia Hackaton with UCL, 13/14 September

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Virtually Free’s CEO, Dr Andrés Fonseca, who is a consultant psychiatrist specialised in neuropsychiatry and neurodegenerative disorders and also honorary lecturer at University College London (UCL), will represent the University at the Dementia Hackaton in London. UCL was recently approached by the UKTI to collaborate in this interesting project and his department—the department of Mental Health Science—selected him to represent the university.

The event will take place next 13th and 14th of September at the Impact Hub Westminster. More than 400 data scientists, hackers, innovators and start-ups will gather in London and Toronto for the weekend to develop on site a software, prototype, web app or mobile app for the self- and community management of dementia, that will try to address many of the issues and areas identified by the Dementia Challenge.

The Dementia Challenge is a program that was launched by Prime Minister David Cameron in March 2012 as one of the legacy events from the UK’s G8 presidency. It aims to tackle one of the main issues as population ages. Its objective is to make a difference in people with dementia, their families and carers, building on progress made through the National Dementia Strategy.

The Dementia Hackaton has been conceived by the UK Science and Innovation Network in partnership with the British High Commission in Canada. This project is not one of the official G8 legacy events, but will contribute to broader work. It is organised by HackerNest and Data Science London.

It is a very ambitious project backed by the Government and its main organisations, and Virtually Free expects to contribute with something creative and useful as well as trying to win the hackaton!

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Event: Join Virtually Free on September 24 in London!

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Event: Join Virtually Free on September 24 in London!

We are pleased to invite you to our launching event!

On 24 September Virtually Free will be hosting an event in our London office, in the Telefonica O2’s accelerator Wayra. Our guests will have the opportunity to:

  • Attend the launch of our next revolutionary app Agoraphobia Free which is expected to give an alternative solution to 3 million people suffering from this disorder in the UK alone (3-6% of the population). You'll get a sneak preview and will be able to test it, 
  • meet the team and learn how we deliver clinically proven mental health therapies through the use of technology and videogames, and
  • test Oculus Rift and some of our virtual reality demo therapies and try our mobile apps Stress Free and Phobia Free.
  • All this around some drink and food warm up the evening

This is a very rare occasion to meet the whole team behind this revolutionary company, as usually half of them are not based in London. Our founders, Dr Andres Fonseca and Dr Russell, both leading consultant psychiatrists in the UK, and Richard Flower, our legendary games developer who is better known for developing all the original Tomb Raider videogames amongst others, will present the company and the apps, and will be available to talk to everyone in what we believe will be a really nice and mind-opening evening.

Tickets can now be reserved for free from Eventbrite. Limited number available.

For press bookings, further information or interview requests, please get in touch directly with us.

Address: Wayra HQ, 2-10 Capper St, 2nd Floor, London WC1E 6JA

We hope to meet you there!

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Stress Free app supports World Suicide Prevention Day

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Stress Free app supports World Suicide Prevention Day

PRESS RELEASE

London, 10 September 2014

In support of World Suicide Prevention Day on Wednesday 10 September, tech company Virtually Free, which makes apps to improve mental health, is making its popular Stress Free app, available through the App Store and Google Play, FREE throughout the day.

Stress, anxiety and depression affect over five hundred million people each year. They are the main reasons people are off work, affecting 40% of employees on sick leave. Those affected take on average 24 days off in the UK. Depression and anxiety also affect a big portion of those diagnosed with ‘bad backs’, essentially those who prefer not to disclose the real reason of their work absence due to the stigma behind mental health disorders.

The Stress Free app from Virtually Free offers a series of proven techniques to relax and relieve anxiety, the cornerstone of any treatment for anxiety. Designed by two UK leading practicing consultant psychiatrists, Dr Andres Fonseca and Dr Russell Green, and developed by videogame legend Richard Flower, the app takes advantage ofthe same proven cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques used in clinical practice applied in this game.

Dr Freeman, the app’s virtual doctor, teaches the user four tested relaxation techniques including calm breathing, deep muscle relaxation, meditation and self-hypnosis. Meditation in particular is the most effective at protecting you from both depression and anxiety.

1 in 4 people suffer from mental health problems of which around just 33% seek formal help. When help is sought people are often faced with long waiting lists or mounting costs. There is a big shortage of resources and options provided to sufferers but it not treated effectively, mental disorders can often lead to suicide.

Alternative tools, like Virtually Free’s computerised cognitive behavioural therapy app Stress Free, can help bridge that gap between extensive therapy and mental illness.

Stress Free can be downloaded for free on September 10 2014 from:

 
 
 

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