WhatsUp? App – A blog by Vincent Pericard…

The WhatsUp? App is a wellbeing phone app offering 24/7 safeguarding, wellbeing and emotional health support. Features include:

  • Rate your mood
  • Ask a question
  • Personal journal
  • Inspirational notifications
  • Raise a concern for someone
  • SOS button links to urgent support, and during out of hours links to the Samaritans
  • Bilingual: some of the app has been translated into Welsh language

All entries are anonymous and the app provides secure, confidential and non-judgmental support.

Cardiff University Student Support are trialling the app for 6 months and would love your feedback on it, if you choose to download the app we will send you a link in a few months asking for feedback.

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Meet Vincent Pericard – once a professional footballer, now co-founder of the WhatsUp? App…

When you see your favourite celebrities on TV, how do you imagine their life to be? Probably perfect with fame, money, and endless happiness. If so, that’s alright. The mainstream media, especially magazines and tabloid newspapers, have made a success in painting the flamboyant side of celebrities’ life. However, what you may not have heard of is the gloom side of their life where so many, including myself, have struggled in silence with depression and other mental health issues.

I am Vincent Pericard, a former professional footballer. Now, I am a graduate student from the University of Portsmouth and the co-founder of the WhatsUp? App. To coincide with the launch of the WhatsUp? App at Cardiff University, this blog post tells my story so far, starting with how my experience with mental health issues as a footballer inspired me to conceptualise the App, then how going to university helped me to turn the concept into reality, and finally, why I think the WhatsUp? App could be beneficial to you.

‘Behind closed doors my life was secretly being consumed by dark thoughts…’

When I was 17 years-old, I had just signed my first professional contract for AS Saint-Étienne, my hometown club in France. Twelve months later, I was recruited by one of the biggest clubs in the world, Juventus Football Club. This quickly attracted national-wide media attention and I even had the honour of having a documentary made about me with the flattering title “The Man Who Will Be Worth Billions”. To put things into context, I was only an 18 year-old young boy; came from a family with very little money and I had just passed the Baccalauréat (main diploma required to pursue university studies in France). Overnight, I had fame, money and everything that comes with it. After two successful seasons with a champions league game against Arsenal F.C. to put on my CV, I got transferred to Portsmouth Football Club (PFC) in the UK. New country, new culture, new language, and new style of football. Despite a very difficult settlement period of three months, I went on to have the best time of my career. I felt an integral part of the PFC promotion team to the Premier League and I even got to play at Old Trafford against David Beckham! I was so happy. I had it all! While the fans, and even my friends and family could only see my glamorous lifestyle, behind closed doors my life was secretly, slowly, but surely being consumed by dark thoughts. Thoughts of worthless, envy, pain, regrets and even suicide.

Fast forward a few years, at the age of 28, I was now playing amateur football! A very far cry from the initial national fame, playing in front of 25,000 fans and driving a Mercedes supercar. With this free fall into the abyss of football, I eventually decided to hang the boots. As I took this life changing decision, I started to reflect on my short and frustrating career and asked myself the following questions – “what went wrong?”; “how did I go in the short space of 10 years from brushing shoulders with world-class footballers such as Zidane or Buffon to seating on the bench in a non-league club?” With the help of a psychologist I came to learn I have had depression during most of my career. Depression was triggered and compounded by many events which included moving and setting between countries (France to Italy, Italy to the UK), a series of consecutive injuries, fans and media’s critics. I felt frustrated, worthless, lonely, and wanted to ‘disappear’.

Upon reflecting on my experience, I came to realise that I never felt brave and safe to talk about my struggles with someone face to face. I was too scared to be identified and judged by friends, team mates and managers. I also realise a lot of my team mates were experiencing the same difficulties. It is at that moment I felt inspired to find a solution.

Making the first step towards support easier!

The WhatsUp? concept was born out of my struggles within a highly-pressured environment. I had a clear vision of how it would be useful to others. However, I had no idea on how to convert a concept into a tangible product or business. To fill this knowledge-gap, I made the brave decision to go and study for a university degree. After a few months into my first year at the University of Portsmouth, I was shocked to observe that the university environment was not much different than an elite sport environment and mental health issues amongst students are prevalent. In fact, a YouGov survey of Britain’s students found more than a quarter of students (27%) report having a mental health problem of one type or another with depression and anxiety the most common reported mental health issues. I can certainly understand why! From my personal experience, I had to cope with the anxiety of engaging much younger students, for instance. Or the stress caused by heavy workloads and exams.

I hope you would agree with me that the most important but challenging stage in getting support is in making that ‘first step’. The step where you are brave enough to reach out for help. That said, I am a strong believer this step should be made as easy, simple and convenient as possible. Sadly, it is often not the case. I, therefore, used my degree, learning about the principles of new product development and innovation to work with the University of Portsmouth, including students and counsellors to refine the WhatsUp? Concept, then pilot it and eventually fully implement it.

The WhatsUp? App

So, what is the WhatsUp? App. WhatsUp? offers a digital support and self-help platform to use on your smart phone. The App works in conjunction with a web-administration system which is managed by the university wellbeing service department. All users are totally anonymous, meaning that no-one would know who you are unless you decide reveal your identity or if the university belief you are a danger to yourself or others. The App also offer other important beneficial functionalities for students: You can rate your mood on daily basis, use it as a personal thoughts journal, ask any wellbeing related questions, raise a concern for someone or make SOS text and calls, which are directed to the Samaritans out of working hours.

If we look at the real benefits and value of the WhatsUp? App, you just need to imagine how you can have your university’s wellbeing and counselling support in your pocket by just having it in your mobile phone. We are addicted to our mobile phone, we love texting or procrastinating on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat… This makes accessing support very easy and convenient as you can use it from virtually anywhere and at any time.

As a result, the WhatsUp? App can help you remain discreet, providing a safe way to raise concerns about any issues such as discrimination, bullying, abuse, addictions, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, etc.

The reviews so far

The WhatsUp? App can be used by all students, not just those who feel they need mental health support. Research into why the App is being used at the University of Portsmouth shows that students have downloaded the app for very different reasons. Here are some examples of what students have said they like about having the app:

“It’s personal, feels like the university really care about me”.

“I like rating my mood each day and recording my feelings/thoughts/events”.

“I use it periodically, I don’t need it all the time but like knowing it’s always there”.

“Being anonymous is very comforting and I can really express myself”.

’‘I’ve been able to get support without being judged”’.

“I was embarrassed [male international student] it’s not usual to speak openly or ask for help, it’s really helped me”.

Don’t be afraid to seek help, even if it’s just by downloading the app!

My career as a professional footballer was cut short because of poor mental health which I did not know how to deal with nor did I had the means to access support in a way that would have made me feel safe and confident. Going to University was a unique opportunity to allow me to transition out from football. My university experience has help me create the WhatsUp? App which I hope can provide you and your friends a simple, easy modern and convenient way to get help.

If you would like to download the free App go to: www.thewhatsupapp.com and tap either the App store or Google Play for your device. Tap the download icon. Register your details using your University email address and a next steps welcome email will activate the app.

Please note email accounts other than Cardiff University are not recognised by the programme.

 

Your feedback and help please

Have you found this blog post useful?  Please help us by commenting in the bar below, and note any questions there too.

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Best wishes,
Sophie, Student Intern.

The Student Support Centre has a range of services dedicated to helping students make the most of their time at University, including: Advice and MoneyCareers and EmployabilityCounselling, Health and Wellbeing, Disability and Dyslexia and International Student Support. The Student Support Centres are located at 50 Park Place, Cathays Campus and Cardigan House, Heath Park Campus.

For further details of services, events, opening times and more find us on the University Intranet.

 

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