Jaron Soh (he/him), Co-founder and CEO of Voda, the LGBTQIA+ mental wellness app, shares why they are launching “Coping with Gender Dysphoria”, a series of digital mental health support resources for the trans and non-binary community. Voda is one of the companies on the latest cohort of DigitalHealth.London Launchpad.
Mental health challenges are a growing concern across the UK, but research revealed that LGBTQIA+ individuals are disproportionately affected.
A study published in BMC Psychiatry found that queer people are twice as likely than their counterparts to suffer from anxiety and depression. Stonewall’s LGBT In Britain Report also revealed that 52% of LGBT+ people have experienced depression in the last year, and for anxiety, this figure rises to 61%. These statistics are alarming, and point to the urgent need for targeted mental health support for the LGBTQIA+ community.
I am the Co-founder and CEO of Voda. We are a LGBTQIA+ mental wellness app that provides self-guided digital therapy programmes focused on LGBTQIA+ issues such as coming out, internalised stigma and minority stress. Our programmes are derived from evidence-based techniques, including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and mindfulness.
As part of the DigitalHealth.London Launchpad, Voda is launching our “Coping with Gender Dysphoria” programme. The programme has been designed by a panel of leading LGBTQIA+ psychotherapists and is aimed at helping trans and non-binary individuals manage the symptoms associated with gender dysphoria.
An accessible programme that is rooted in trans and non-binary lived experiences
We decided to make the “Coping with Gender Dysphoria” programmes available for free on the Voda app due to the heightened levels of discrimination, stigma and violence that the trans community is currently facing in this political climate.
The Home Office reported that transgender people experienced the greatest rise in hate crimes in 2022, up 56% from the previous year.
The mental health support available to trans people is also severely lacking. Stonewall reported that 32% of trans people have reported unequal treatment from healthcare staff because of their trans identity, and 20% of trans people have been pressured to suppress their gender identity when accessing healthcare services.
Furthermore, the Tavistock gender clinic’s closure this spring will also leave more than 7,500 young people with gender incongruence without support, further exacerbating this crisis.
“Gender dysphoria is a complex and often challenging experience for many trans and non-binary individuals,” said Chris Sheridan (they/them), Voda’s Lead Psychotherapist. “In light of this political climate, we wanted to create a free programme that would give people the tools to better understand and manage their dysphoria.”
The “Coping with Gender Dysphoria” programmes have been designed by a panel of queer, trans and non-binary psychotherapists who identify across the spectrum of gender, sexuality and ethnicity, bringing together an intersectional lens. In addition, we have also included a “Trans Support Hub” on the app that provides relevant signposting to helpful resources for the trans and non-binary communities.
We know that our offering will not solve the trans mental health crisis, but hope to offer a small element of support to all trans and non-binary people who are struggling with gender dysphoria in the current system.
Voda app’s promising results for LGBTQIA+ participants
The Voda app has also been through an initial small study where we tracked LGBTQIA+ participants as they used our programmes regularly. The outcomes were promising, with participants reporting a 40.06% reduction in clinical symptoms of depression (PHQ-9) and 43.76% reduction in clinical symptoms of anxiety (GAD-7) after regular use of the app for four weeks.
By and for the community
Launched in 2022, Voda is built by and for the LGBTQIA+ community. We’re building the product we wish we had in our younger years.
The launch of “Coping with Gender Dysphoria” programme is one way we seek to help the LGBTQIA+ community cope with the challenges of living in a heteronormative and cisnormative society.
Unlike other digital wellbeing apps, Voda is rooted in the LGBTQIA+ lived experience. Our app also addresses issues such as body image, relationships, stress and anxiety through a LGBTQIA+ lens.
Thoughts for the future
We are thrilled to have been part of the DigitalHealth.London Launchpad. The Launchpad has been instrumental in helping us understand the structure of the NHS and explore ways we could collaborate with NHS stakeholders to better serve the mental health needs of the LGBTQIA+ community.
The DigitalHealth.London team has created an exemplary programme, pointing us towards topics ranging from stakeholder engagement to evidence generation. We also learned from and are equally inspired by our fellow startups in the programme.
We look forward to staying connected with the Launchpad team as we scale to better provide LGBTQIA+ people in the UK with the right tools and resources to lead happier, thriving, and more fulfilled lives.
Voda is looking to speak to academic partners, as well as NHS stakeholders to learn how we could partner with clinicians or NHS trusts to better support the LGBTQIA+ community.
- Stonewall LGBT In Britain Report: https://www.stonewall.org.uk/system/files/lgbt_in_britain_health.pdf
- Sexual orientation and symptoms of common mental disorder or low wellbeing: combined meta-analysis of 12 UK population health surveys: https://bmcpsychiatry.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12888-016-0767-z
- Hate crimes recorded by police up by more than a quarter. BBC: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-63157965
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Voda is on cohort 5 of the DigitalHealth.London Launchpad programme.
The DigitalHealth.London Launchpad is a collaborative programme funded by two of London’s Academic Health Science Networks – UCLPartners and the Health Innovation Network – MedCity, CW+ and receives match funding from the European Regional Development Fund.