Improving people’s mental health through music therapy


In an age where technology both eased and complicated lives, Cove emerged as a positive technological influence amidst increasing mental health challenges. While offering convenience and self-care opportunities, technology also has been known to contribute to significant mental health issues, particularly affecting young people with escalating rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide. Cove responded to this digital conundrum by offering a space that acknowledged the emotional complexity of human life in a rapidly changing world.

Our Work
Cove was inspired by the loss of my best friend, and was set in motion by the witnessing some of the stranger rituals of modern life. In this case, young people taking selfies at funerals. Puzzled by the use of technology to express a complex situation, I sat down with Alex Rothera to explore how we might better use technology to express complex emotions. Cove was crafted to transform the act of expressing emotions into a delightful and playful experience. It was pivotal to develop an inclusive environment, to make the process of music-making as easy as possible, eschewing traditional musical icons for more elemental designs like stones and water, which created a personal space for users’ emotional expression.


How We Did It
Our mission was to improve young people’s mental health by providing enjoyable, accessible and meaningful support with easy-to-use technology. Our methodology hinged on empathetic listening, playful prototyping, and effective delivery. A diverse team, including designer founders, developers, audio designers, product managers, researchers, and clinical advisors, worked in concert with psychologists to grasp the needs of young people.

The design process involved:

  • Identifying problems with ‘humane’ technology through empathy.
  • Discovering music as a layered medium for emotional expression, especially beneficial for those finding it more approachable than writing.
  • Prioritising privacy and personal space, with all data kept locally and no encouragement for social media sharing.
  • Focusing on active music-making for empowerment and self-expression.

Cove’s impact was not just quantified through user engagement and downloads, but also through its significant trust and utilisation within health and care services. The app’s effectiveness and innovative approach to mental health management were recognized and validated by several reputable health organizations.

  • NHS England: Cove was evaluated and approved for use in the NHS app library. It was commended as a highly intuitive and engaging app, serving as a valuable resource for self-expression therapy and anxiety distraction.
  • Parkinson’s UK: The app underwent independent evaluation and was subsequently supported and included in their app library.
  • Islington CCG Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services: Cove was evaluated by 52 young people in Islington, receiving a high rating of 4.2 out of 5, indicating its effectiveness and popularity among young users.
  • EMIS Health: The partnership with EMIS Health led to an evaluation and a commercial arrangement to offer Cove on their primary care app library. This partnership enabled Cove to be prescribed to patients via GPs, significantly broadening its reach and impact.

These recognitions and partnerships with health and care services underscored Cove’s role as a pioneering mental health tool. They also validated the app’s design and methodology, confirming its efficacy in supporting mental health in diverse settings.

Learn more: Cove

Team: Ivor Williams, Alex Rothera, Dr Stephanie Archer, Mor Bakal, Davide Cairo, Chris Thompson, Mike Colville, Alejandro Santander, Ema O’Donovan.

Image credit: © Chris Thompson