By Anna Delamerced

n the U.S., there is a suicide every 15 minutes.  25% of deaths are related to drug or alcohol abuse.  And 1 out of 4 people have a mental illness.  But patients see their therapists and mental health providers for only 0.04% of the entire year.

Amy Goldfeder, a 2013 graduate of the Industrial Design masters program at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), is a game changer.  With her brainchild “Pause Emote,” she is looking to revolutionize the mental health industry.

Pause Emote is an app that uses mobile technology to diagnose and treat patients.  To document life as it is actually happening in real time.  And to enhance communication between them and their therapists or psychiatrists.

Patients record their feelings at any given time in the day in a daily log.  For example, they can be at the gym or at a restaurant and log in how they’re feeling in those different contexts.  These key pieces of information can then be reviewed during sessions with their providers

A self-described designer, inventor, and problem solver, Amy kindly answered a few questions for D+H:

What sparked your interest in design in the first place?  Have you known since you were a kid that you’ve wanted to go into the field of design?

“I grew up in New Jersey and have pursued drawing and painting my whole life.  I’ve just always loved drawing and painting.  I took classes at art schools like the Pratt Institute, attended summer programs like Sotheby’s in London, then earned an undergraduate degree at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2006.  I focused on interior architecture and after graduating I worked in architecture and branded environments.  I got to do really cool projects like working in a film studio that was all sustainable, really high-tech, and beautifully designed.  But at the end of the day, not many people had access to the building.  So I became more and more interested in industrial design and product design, and its impact on multiple people.”

Your current work, Pause Emote, provides a platform for people to record their feelings and aims to assist people with mental illnesses.  How did you become interested specifically in this field of emotions, psychology, and mental health?

“It really all started with this idea of mindfulness.  I personally got into meditation, and so I was toying with the idea on figuring out a way for people to become more mindful.  To help people pause their lives and take breathers.  I started thinking, how can technology be used to help people do that: for us to pause and reflect and be mindful.  Looking deeper into psychology, mindfulness, and meditation, I became interested in mental health as well.  With Pause Emote, I’m hoping to break the stigma around mental illness.  Ultimately this app could be used by anyone.”

Can you take us through the process of designing and testing your idea and product?

“There’s still a lot of beta testing to go through, but I’m happy with where my design is going.  I’ve tested the app with people but it’s not yet out on the market.  I need to tweak some things and refine some things.  For now, I’ve tested it with family members and friends, and am currently working with a hospital in order to test patients.”

What were some of the design challenges you encountered?

“(Laughs) There’s always challenges.  You think you know things and then you put it into people’s hands, and it’s cool to watch how people use your app.  For example, I thought people were going to touch the screen with their fingers in one direction but they ended up moving their fingers in the other direction.  People’s reactions definitely influence my design. Another example is that I thought my ‘Emotions 1-10’ scale would be great and easy to understand — people would rate their emotions (e.g. calm, anger, anxious, confused, sad, joyous) on a 1-10 scale — but when I went to test it out on people, in reality people didn’t get it so I changed the design.

It’s a great learning process.  I understood I had to change it.  So now, for example, I incorporated language instead of a ranked scale: “I’m really sad” to “not sad”.”

What’s the best part about the design process?

“I think really that’s the best part — learning.  Learning from my mistakes.  I love the challenges that come inherently with this whole journey.  I’ve learned to just put things out there really quickly (RISD taught me that), make a lot of mistakes, learn from those mistakes, and change things.

And it’s also fun to be surprised.  One thing that really stuck out with me is what one person told me after using the app.  She had been seeing a therapist once a week for a very small amount of time with the therapist; this person was quite depressed, and didn’t tell her therapist everything, but within the first few days of using Pause Emote, she logged everything down, like whenever she was happy after hanging out with her Chihuahua.  So people showed me things about my product that I didn’t even know, and it was enlightening.”

What kind of impact do you hope Pause Emote will achieve on people?

“There’s value in stopping and thinking about how you feel, so recognizing a feeling at a specific moment is very valuable.  Again, it’s about mindfulness.  And pausing.  And this pausing and logging the feelings (‘journaling’) helps change behavior, and communication with therapist is enhanced so therapy will be enhanced.  Moreover, the relationship and the trust between therapist and patient will hopefully build and increase due to Pause Emote.”

What do you think has been your most valuable lesson you’d like to share from your experience and journey with Pause Emote?

“Fearlessness.  If it could be summed up in one word, it’d be fearlessness.  It’s definitely a risky thing to do — trying to start your own company — but just go for it.  Take a stab at it.  Reach out to people as well.  I’ve learned that people are always helpful and willing to help and talk about things.  People are friendly.”

What’s next?  

“In the future, I want to do more studies and concentrate on getting Pause Emote out there.  I want to see it out there, test it, and refine it for improvements.

In terms of other projects, I see myself as an entrepreneur, innovator, and designer.  I wear a lot of different hats, and I’m interested in many different fields (technology, healthcare, and more).  I have some other ideas but right now I’m focusing on Pause Emote.  It’s been a great journey so far and I’m looking forward to whatever happens next.”