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.