Aimed at lowering the suicide rate in the veteran community, Australian Army veteran Michael Handley built and developed REDSIX, a mobile phone app that is designed to support other veterans that are struggling with their mental health and PTSD.
After serving in the Army for nearly a decade and struggling with PTSD himself following his transition back to civilian life, Handley became passionate about helping other veterans battling with mental health illness get the support they need.
“I wanted to help the men and women I served with in the military in post service life,” Handley said.
“Those dealing with the injuries and illnesses they incurred during their service and to also use my lived experience outside the military to help encourage more to reach out for support.
“I thought I had a good concept that needed to be out there which was aimed at helping lower the growing suicide rates amongst the veteran community.”
Within three months of its launch in 2018, REDSIX became the most downloaded veteran support app. According to Handley, REDSIX’s simplicity and how the data is used to direct support to locations that need it most are the app’s most effective functions.
“Being able to reach out for support simply by pressing a button would have to be the number one functionality that separates REDSIX from anything else,” Handley said.
“The data collected allows us to easily identify locations needing support.”
The REDSIX app is designed to facilitate instant peer-to-peer support from a user’s top three ‘Battle Buddies’, or directly links users that indicate they need immediate help to professional support services 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“Basically, think of a social networking platform like Facebook or Instagram that allows users to set and show other users just how they are feeling each day by simply clicking one of four ‘mood’ buttons (Green/Amber/Red or Black) every time you open the app,” Handley said.
“Hitting either the ‘Red or Black’ button, depending on your needs, you will get instant peer to peer support or be linked directly to professional support services.
“The red button means I am in a bad headspace and could do with some contact.”
As part of the registration process, REDSIX users are required to select up to three ‘Battle Buddies’, which could be friends and family who an app user would like to hear from.
“They don’t have to be on the app and don’t have to have served so it can be anyone they would want to hear from when things get a little foggy,” Handley added.
“These guys and girls are known as your Battle Buddies and they receive a text message that has a link they push, which calls you instantly for peer-to-peer support.
“I added in a Black button too, which allows users to be instantly, at a push of a button, connected to professional support services like Open Arms who can provide assistance over the phone or even contact emergency services to attend the user’s location and help get them better care.”
REDSIX was built on Handley’s own lived experience with PTSD. After enlisting in the Army in 1991, Handley was deployed on two peace enforcement operations. First in 1993 with the 1st Battalion (1RAR) on Operation Solace in Somalia, and again in 1994 with the South Pacific Peacekeeping Force (SPPKF), an Australian led peacekeeping force established during the Bougainville Civil War to provide security for peace talks around Arawa.
“I had experienced all the ups and downs of being diagnosed with PTSD back in the early 2000s,” Handley said.
“I visited many websites on support for PTSD and discovered we also had a few mobile apps available, as much as they were full of information, they lacked that basic need a veteran wanted when trying to get support.
“I knew personally that there were so many support services available to us as veterans but again I also knew that many, like me, have had bad experiences in the past and they had stopped engaging with them.”
After discovering that there was a growing number of veterans losing the battle with mental illness on home soil, the idea to build REDSIX came about.
“This is where lived experience became so important, understanding that searching for a call centre or googling help became so frustrating and it only accelerated my condition when things weren’t easy to find,” Handley said.
“My demons were OK during the day, the average 9-5, it was later at night when I was reliving traumatic events, nightmares and sleeplessness, that I needed help – nearly all these veteran support services closed their doors after 5pm.
“I found it hard enough just to focus let alone try and search for support.”
Currently, REDSIX is self-funded by Handley and his wife. After three years in the tech and app development space, Handley is now focused on seeking sponsorship or a partnership with a like-minded organisation to help build a better version of the REDSIX app.
“Growing the team and partnering with an organisation is something I look forward to,” Handley added.
“This app has been and still is today, totally self-funded by my wife and I, plus the generous support of members in the veteran community who purchase our [REDSIX] merchandise, a few people and businesses [who] reach out and help us.
“Having a better idea on what works, is what is needed in the veteran space.”
ADF members and their families can contact the Defence All-hours Support Line, a confidential telephone service available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by calling 1800 628 036. Defence families can also contact the Defence Family Helpline on 1800 624 608.
Safe Zone Support (1800 142 072) is also available as a free and anonymous counselling line for current and former ADF personnel and their families. The service is available 24/7 and provides access to specialised counsellors with an understanding of military culture and experience.