How Chris and I used Salesforce to help with mental health

You’re going to think I’m totally pathetic for writing about this!!! For those of you who know me, you probably know that I’m lucky enough to have a job that doubles up as a hobby. I’ve been working as a Salesforce consultant for the last 9.5 years and that it’s always been something I’ve enjoyed doing – it’s very flexible and has helped thousands of organisations around the world to become more efficient. Well, today I’m writing about how a skill I use for work has actually helped me with something OUTSIDE of work…and writing about this has also helped me to stop beating myself up about enjoying it. Why shouldn’t I enjoy it?

Life after cancer

It’s not been the easiest few years, what with so much going on in my life. Everyone, I think, reaches a point where there is only so much drama they can handle before it becomes overwhelming. After my operation in 2014, I started with my hormone therapy. A few months later, I decided to go back onto Venlafaxine (an antidepressant treatment) to help me overcome a period of unhappiness and help with some of the side effects of Tamoxifen. I stayed with a low dose for a couple of years, but things came to a head earlier this year, so I decided to seek some specialist help. I’d been feeling irritable, listless, disinterested and moody for months and it was starting to have an effect on my relationships with others – at work and at home. I also struggled to remember things and to concentrate; I became easily distracted and lost my train of thought regularly. After a discussion with my oncologist, I was referred to a psychologist for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and to a psychiatrist to review my current state of mind and the medication I was on.

Ohhhh noooo, not another mental health article

By the way, I’m well aware that some of my colleagues may well read this blog post – a few months ago I’d’ve thought twice about publishing it, for fear of being judged as unfit to do my job. The stigma of mental health problems. I’ve been inspired by Princes William and Harry for speaking out about the effects of mental illness and for making use of their positions in such a constructive way. It’s important, though, to understand how anxiety and depression can affect the way people respond to tricky situations, but also to understand that if somebody 1) asks for help and acknowledges they may need something extra to help them through it, i.e. a professional and 2) finds a way to channel their problems into something useful, recovery becomes much easier and you become a more stable person to work and be friends with. I feel SO much better since I admitted that I hadn’t dedicated enough time to help myself. My company doesn’t know it, but their culture and environment has already enabled me to put that time in, even despite being busy with client project work. So has my hobby…

Mood charts and thought diaries

The CBT was fantastic and helped me examine a few areas of my personality that I could gain better control of. Part of the therapy was for me to keep a thought diary and hand it in at each weekly session so that I (and the psychologist) could examine these thoughts and try to identify trends we could discuss together. The psychiatrist was also very helpful and asked me to complete some symptom checklists. This would produce some scores that could indicate some problematic areas; in addition to this, I was asked to keep a mood diary to help the psychiatrist understand some areas of ambiguity. I was sent a pdf mood chart and a scale to use to mark each mood level.

I started to look at the chart and what was being asked of me, then, after discussing it with my husband Chris, who also works with Salesforce, we identified a few things:

  1. My moods fluctuate throughout the course of a day, so there could be several entries per day. The form wasn’t really accommodating to that unless you’re ticking boxes a few times
  2. The psychiatrist was seeking to understand the moods themselves, correlations between hours slept that night and medication dosage in relation to those moods
  3. I’m likely to lose this piece of paper with the mood chart on it and we both know I can spend quite a lot of time on my phone
  4. We both like Salesforce

So why not use our working talents to build a tracking tool, that would make it easy for me to record items in my mood diary, make me less likely to lose the data and make it very easy to present to the doctor at our next meeting? The answer was quite simple. We built an app in Salesforce; it only took about an hour. We spun up a Developer Edition org and created an app to record my mood diaries.

The Mood Diary app

First, Chris created a custom object called Mood Diary. It had a few simple fields – a picklist for the scale, some notes, which day of the experiment it was e.g. day 1, the dosage of medication I had taken that day and the date and time of the entry. That meant I could log as many diary entries as I wanted throughout the course of a single day – thus keeping track of each fluctuating mood.

As I started to build some reports to help summarise the mood diary entries, it became clear to me that I (and the doctor) wanted to see an average per day and a correlation between the mood level and the medication dosage I was on. So I created a formula to transform the scale from the picklist into a figure that could be summarised in a report or a dashboard, like the one below:

Loving this sexy dashboard

Chris then configured the Salesforce1 app so that I could record Mood Diary entries on the go, wherever I was, thus dealing with my issue of losing the form. As we worked, I decided a mood diary wasn’t quite enough. I had been creating a thought diary as part of my CBT, so why not bung that into the app as well? It could have gone pretty far, as in building this up, I started thinking about all the benefits a tool like this could actually bring to the medical profession. Sure, someone’s probably done it already – from the doctor’s perspective – but I was thinking as a patient, why should any doctor (psych, oncologist) have to wait 3 weeks for the information they need? What if I could log in to a private area on the doctor’s website (Community) and add my thought and mood diaries directly? That next appointment could be more productive because the doctors and psychologists have had the opportunity to prepare for it, and for patients – there’s no risk of losing the pieces of paper you’re asked to keep because you can be adding these diary entries from anywhere at any time. I could also run a report with all my notes and export it / print it to take with me to the next appointment if it wasn’t practical for the doctor to be checking it in real time.

And the fact that it’s in Salesforce? It didn’t involve writing any code whatsoever and it killed my evening of feeling listless, bored, restless and irritated, giving me something constructive to channel that energy into. I’d not had much of a chance to play with creating dashboards in Lightning Experience, Salesforce’s newer user interface, so I had some fun with that too. As a result, I am now feeling much calmer, less bored and have genuinely enjoyed my evening working on this with Chris.

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