'I hope that my app can help women realise that they aren't going mad and there is help'
Nuala Murphy of Moment Health tells Lisa Smyth about her drive to succeed and how her experience of anxiety during her pregnancy inspired her to set up her new business
She's a former competitive runner and swimmer who's cycled across Chile, so it's no surprise that Nuala Murphy has also brought zeal to her career and ambitions for her company, Moment Health.
The 37-year-old is also the founder of Lean In Belfast - the regional chapter of a global movement for the advancement of women, inspired by the 'Lean In' philosophy of success developed by Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.
And her own experience of anxiety during her pregnancy, and the desire to lift the stigma around mental health, inspired her to set up Moment Health. It's an app that can help women track their mood during pregnancy and afterwards, and direct them to help if they need it.
Post-natal depression affects more than one in every 10 women within a year of giving birth, according to official NHS figures.
However, charity 4Children puts the figure much higher, claiming that a third of women are affected with mental ill health after becoming a mum.
The figures are stark - meaning Moment Health has the potential to capture a global market.
The company, based in Belfast city centre, designs and builds technology aimed at helping parents, and specifically new mums, safeguard their mental health.
Nuala, the company's chief executive, said: "We launched our app in the UK and Ireland in November and we've already had thousands of downloads.
"We were rated the number one app for health and fitness on AppAnnie, an independent reviewer, the week that we launched so we were really delighted with that."
She is interested in mental health issues, and enthused by the insights in a biography of David Bowie by Dylan Jones.
"I am intrigued about his past, from that era especially in comparison to today and what was acceptable then and most certainly is not now, thankfully. He had a half brother, Terry, who suffered from clinical depression and schizophrenia and took his own life. And on his mother's side of the family, three aunts all suffered from mental ill health and schizophrenia.
"He was so afraid of falling victim to such instability. The book also highlighted how women in institutions with psychiatric issues were sterilised to prevent the chance of having children. We know better now on how to treat different illnesses. However, we still have lots to do."
Over the past year, Nuala has devoted countless hours to developing her idea. This has included consultation with doctors and potential users, marketing and securing the funding required to ensure her dream to bring the app to market.
The idea for Moment Health came about as a direct consequence of Nuala's own experience when she became a mum.
Having suffered with mental ill health while expecting her eldest child, four-year-old Henry, Nuala - also mum to two-year-old Conrad - became aware of the need for better support services for women.
"I have been through it myself, but I do think it is unfortunate that as a woman who is developing a product like mine, you are asked if it is because you have personal experience of post-natal depression," she said.
"I don't think you would ever ask a man in business about their mental health.
"Saying that, we need to normalise mental health and encourage people to talk about it.
"I think mental ill-health has a stigma in general, but I think that maternal mental health has an even bigger stigma and no one really talks about it.
"When you are going through it, it can feel lonely, it's a horrible feeling, women feel like they are going mad and that isn't the case and I really hope that my app will help women know they aren't alone.
"When it happened to me, I realised how fortunate I was because I had early intervention.
"I did my research and I was stunned by the lack of training and resources for mental health during pregnancy and postpartum.
"We have to remember that for frontline health professionals it is a vocation and they want to help, but quite often they don't have the skills, training or opportunity to help with relation to mental health.
"As a result, I identified this huge gap in the market for this unmet need where millions of women are not being treated for pre-natal or post-natal depression or anxiety. Our app is a channel that offers early intervention through technology."
The app allows women to track their mood throughout and after pregnancy, helping them to identify whether they may be suffering from depression or anxiety.
It signposts them to sources of help and support and also provides access to a community of women who may also be struggling with their mental health.
"I think the app is a very helpful tool for women when they do go along to their doctor because they have evidence of how their mood has changed," she said.
Nuala, whose background is in healthcare technology and marketing, was extremely conscious of the importance of developing an app that did not adversely impact upon the health of users.
She studied applied languages and linguistics at the University of Manchester. Her career later took her to Total Mobile, where she became head of marketing.
"The sense of responsibility from my side has been huge as I am not a doctor, although I am not pretending to be," she said.
As a result, Nuala worked closely with clinicians, charities and women who have lived through mental ill-health while developing the technology.
"We use tools such as the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, and as far as I am concerned it was really important to have healthcare professionals involved from the outset."
To develop Moment Health, she employed help from a highly experienced software developer to ensure the app is as user-friendly as possible. "We are constantly updating, looking at ways of improving it.
"I want this to be something that people can download easily, I want it to be easy to use.
"I also want it to be as accessible to as many people as possible.
"We have also developed it for Android and IOS, as I didn't want a mum trying to download the app and not being able to. That was a big investment piece for us but it was really important to me that we are able to offer the app to everyone who needs it."
She added: "Building the right team is crucial when you are starting a business.
"My background is in marketing, exporting and international business development but if there is one thing I have learned from all my time with Lean In is that it isn't about one person, it is about building a team around you to fill the gaps of the things you can't do. I recognise that sometimes we make mistakes and no one knows everything so you surround yourself with people who do know what you don't."
However, with her background in marketing, Nuala was more than capable of creating the buzz required to launch a new product.
"You have to understand how to connect and promote your idea," she said. "I think that sometimes companies forget about the importance of marketing and they expect that if they do a few press releases they are going to make millions.
"However, it isn't that easy, it is a science, you have to establish what you are trying to achieve, who your audience is and how you are going to connect with them. "For example, if I want to appeal to my end user, I don't do a piece in (magazine) Agenda NI.
"In the end, we launched with our consumer with a closed question and answer session on Facebook.
"This isn't a dating app, our users aren't meeting up in the park for a bit of craic.
"You have to remember we are dealing with a very sensitive area and people are sometimes not willing to talk about it, or maybe they don't even realise they aren't well. You have to get whatever message you are trying to get across with whatever channel the customer uses and it has to be interesting and relevant."
Looking to the future, Nuala has big plans for Moment Health.
"We are planning to launch in America in the near future.
"Ultimately, we are totally focused on growing the company to a global level with offices in Belfast.
"Maternal mental health affects millions of people and millions are suffering already. This is a global problem and if we don't sort it out, it is going to be a pandemic. We really need to do something about it.
"This is the first time I have been the CEO of a business and it is a huge responsibility but I am determined to make the company a success on a global scale.
"I don't think it is possible to have a work/life balance, I think you have to integrate the two.
"Running your own business is great because you can work from anywhere and you don't have to clock in or out.
"People are always telling me to slow down and stop being so ambitious which has provided a lot of frustration for me, as I always want to go faster, but then people who I would have got to know professionally have told me that I would be great at running a business. It has lived up to my expectation. No one is holding me back now."