Why I Started ASSIF ...
You are defined in life by the choices you make, some are made for you and some you make. Researchers at Cornell University estimate we make 226.7 decisions each day on food alone. And as your level of responsibility increases, so does the multitude of choices you have to make. It's estimated that the average adult makes about 35,000 remotely conscious decisions each day. So times that figure by days in a year as well as the average life expectancy of a male in the UK; that's 779,274,000 decisions made in our adult life. Out of all the decisions we make it's startling how life, success, happiness can sometime boil down to 1, or a handful of the 779,274,000 decisions that we make. And this is about one of those choices, a regret, a painful memory that has given birth and run in tandem to choices that you have made, that have resulted in you reading this.
The idea of ASSIF came after a throw away comment a doctor made at a CUXA (Clinical User Experience Association) event in London-
‘How do you measure prevention? Unfortunately we can’t; and if we can't measure something, we can't get funding and that’s the way it works’.
This comment resonated with me, and got me thinking about my past battles with depression, suicidal thoughts and the fact I’ve lost 3 people very close to me due to suicide, along with the effect it has on me to this day. Truth is, the origin of the company goes further than this.
Some of my story I am ready to share publicly. As for the rest of it - I’m still battling those demons and if anything, ASSIF has been an outlet to not only help people who are going through a similar battle but to also help myself and make sense of my circumstances. The main part of my story revolves around one of my childhood best friends and at the time of the incident a young, emotionally immature me. A friend (my childhood best friend) in a time of need came to me to talk about his despair with life, not knowing or having the tools to see what was lying ahead of me and regrettably, I made a choice of not taking his words seriously and I told him to ‘man up’.
3 hours later he had hung himself.
I don't want to describe the details so much, but I will never forget the moment of opening the door and seeing his body. I even clearly remember the conversation when I called the ambulance, I just had no idea what to do. I felt really disoriented, like my brain hadn't caught up to what my eyes were seeing. The rug of my existence was being swept from right underneath me feet.
The me from back then didn’t know how to react, even though 3 suicide notes (1 which was written for me) told a different story about my friend; a story of years of torment and a battle with depression that nobody was aware of. I was numb and couldn't do anything but replay the conversation that we had. The choices and the words I used or could have used, could have made a difference. We can all speculate but it's a regret and a scar I carry with me to this day. After his funeral, I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror and needed to retreat. I booked a flight to Morocco and disappeared; literally. I was officially missing as absolutely no one knew where I was. 6 months of soul searching brought me back to the UK where a few months later I would be faced with someone else close to me in different circumstances also taking their own life. Life can be a cruel mistress at the best of times.
Years of torment and anguish which were spent trying to learn more about why anyone would do this set me on a journey. Meanwhile, I started fighting my own personal demons. My own demons took me down a path where twice I've been at the edge of that metaphorical cliff and threw myself off it, but it seems that life would have other plans for me. Through time and my ‘safety network’, certain scars began to heal. A few career changes later, I had a desire to turn my negative experiences into positive change. I started formulating the idea of a digital community, and began researching it in earnest.
I got in touch with CALM who were wonderful in terms of support and guidance. After three months of initial research I pitched the idea to a room full of Doctors and Clinicians at another CUX Event. Luckily, apart from that one person at every event who wants to try and obliterate the framework of your idea, the feedback was extremely positive and a few key areas were highlighted. The audience believed that would make the project a go-to source for people in need.
Months of after-hours work, attending events and; if we’re being honest, ignoring my ‘proper job’, I came to a crossroads. During my time in Morocco, I had started working on an algorithm specific to me. The algorithm worked by learning the baseline of my voice and pointing out anomalies in my pitch which would indicate a certain mood. In practice, it was an algorithm that would play me Oasis when I was pissed off, or The Smiths when I was feeling a bit down.
Realising I had this piece of tech and being from the tech industry myself, I started working on this algorithm and over time it’s snowballed. At the time of writing this tech uses deep learning, big data and voice recognition to learn the profile of a user and the idea is it will track their patterns and look out for anomalies.
The crossroads meant looking towards pastures new, and I knew I had to make some tough choices about my full time job in order to make a success of ASSIF. I’ve ended up moving back to the city of Manchester due to research that I am carrying out in regards to the after effects on families of losing someone to suicide; despite the fact that the city still holds a lot of negative connotations for me.
It’s a battle mentally being back in Manchester, but with ASSIF and the great people I’ve met on the way, I hope I can build a community based on the foundations of support, honesty and the promotion of positive mental health.
There are a lot of wounds still to heal but I guess I'm saying that I'm attempting to take control of the choices I make. I'm navigating a path that keeps the candle of those I've lost burning through the work of ASSIF but more importantly: helping others to not be defined by the choices that define me.
Much love xxx
(editor notes: due to the research we have undertaken, the company has pivoted from a suicide prevention initiative to a peer to peer support platform for mental health. The name has also undergone a change to WE ARE ASSIF which we feel shows the community aspect of what we are trying to achieve.)