Anti-anxiety app takes a dual approach to get a clearer picture
Comh tackles elevated anxiety using reflective journalling combined with live data
‘Through reflective journalling, people can discover their triggers.’ Photograph: iStock
Almost 60 per cent of people aged 18-25 in Ireland experience anxiety levels that are considered above normal. Conor Organ is one of them and, when he was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder in his final year at university, it prompted him to establish the mental health start-up Comh in 2019.
The major difference between Comh and other mental health apps is that it tackles heightened anxiety from two angles using a combination of reflective journalling and live data. Each day the app’s users are encouraged to write (on their phone) how they’re feeling and why.
These reflections are added to data collected about them from Apple Health and Google Fit, and the two strands are put together to create a picture of their lifestyle. This in turn pinpoints the things that may be increasing their anxiety, such as poor sleep and not getting enough exercise.
The app also offers suggestions about how to improve their wellbeing. At the moment, the app is monitoring sleep and exercise, but other lifestyle factors such as food choices and nutrition will be added.
“Anxiety is caused by the activation of the fight-or-flight reflex when there is no need and, through reflective journalling, people can discover their triggers and take the guesswork out of uncovering what causes their anxiety,” Organ says. “Every entry into Comh is encrypted so no one else can see what anyone has written. Protecting people’s privacy is front and centre in everything we do.
“When I was diagnosed with anxiety, I searched for something based around technology that could help me to cope because technology has always been close to my heart,” Organ adds. “After trying a couple of apps and other solutions, I couldn’t find one that suited me, and it was at this point that I decided to develop my own.
“I then applied for the Ignite accelerator at UCC and through this programme I have been able to bring my idea successfully to fruition.”
Organ is a 2018 graduate in product design and technology from the University of Limerick and he has been working on Comh for a little over two years. The iOS app has just been launched, and the Android version will be available by the end of the year. It is a bit later than planned due to the impact of Covid-19 on the company’s testing timeline.
The app is restricted to Ireland, Britain, the US and Canada for now and is free to download for a seven-day trial. Thereafter there are subscription options starting at €3.49 a week, while a yearly sub costs €89.99.
“I don’t have any direct competition in my niche as I’m focused on anxiety whereas the big popular mental health apps tend to offer a few different things – such as music and exercises around mindfulness and meditation.
“The mental health wellbeing market is growing at over 12 per cent a year with an expected market size of $111 billion by 2025 so there is a big opportunity out there,” says Organ whose mentor for his fledgling business is the veteran businessman Alf Smiddy, the former chairman and managing director of Beamish & Crawford, who is involved with the social innovation fund.
Organ is looking to raise about €50,000 this year, with a more ambitious fund-raising round of €500,000 planned for 2021.
He has been writing code and creating apps for mobile and the web since he was 13 and he has been able to do all the development work for Comh himself. As a result, start-up costs have been bootstrapped at just under €20,000.
Organ is working alone for now but he expects to have about four people employed in the business by the end of next year.