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Kooth: Making personalized digital mental healthcare available to all with Google Cloud

About Kooth

Kooth is the UK’s largest digital mental health provider that is safe, anonymous, and free at the point of access. Clinically driven and backed by practitioners and counselors, Kooth is a highly accessible platform that offers children, young people, and adults a range of mental health services, including live counseling sessions, mental health activities, and peer-to-peer support.

Industries: Healthcare
Location: United Kingdom

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Kooth rebuilds its mental health platform on Google Cloud to deliver new features faster, scale with increasing demands during COVID-19, and offer more personalized mental wellbeing solutions.

Google Cloud results

  • Delivers new mental health features, faster, by increasing deployment speed with Google Kubernetes Engine
  • Handles record peaks of users, removing bottlenecks by increasing monitoring capabilities with Istio and Cloud Logging
  • Builds a more stable, responsive, and user-friendly platform by adopting a rolling release model to deliver constant improvements
  • Enables B2B customers to gain important insights by expanding data capabilities with BigQuery

Moves from one release every 1,000 days to two per day

If you’re finding things difficult sometimes, you’re not alone. Whether it’s sadness, anxiety, or stress, speaking to someone about it might help. But for many reasons, such as stigmas around mental health, long waiting times, or a lack of access, it’s not always easy to take that first step to get help. That’s what Kooth is hoping to change.

Kooth is a safe, fully anonymous, digital mental healthcare provider in the UK. Free at the point of access for users, it can be commissioned by the National Health Service (NHS), local authorities, employers, and schools to provide a range of online mental health support. Highly accessible and clinically driven, the Kooth platform offers live counseling as well as access to a range of clinical content, activities, and peer-to-peer support.

When the COVID-19 pandemic made some people more isolated and some traditional avenues of support closed, Kooth’s mission to make mental wellbeing accessible for everyone became more important than ever. It’s this shared mission that unites the company’s team, from the counselors that use the solutions to the tech team that builds them.

“For us, good mental healthcare isn’t about ‘fixing problems,’ but working alongside someone to better understand their current needs and supporting them on the way,” says Giles Alexander, Chief Technology and Product Officer at Kooth. “Our internal culture strongly reflects that, and we’re always thinking of ways to give our teams the support they need to achieve their goals and provide more autonomy in the long run.”

“At our size, we just can’t afford to have engineers focused on managing machines or services, it’s not adding enough value for us. To deliver new features and improvements constantly, we want to use managed services whenever possible, which is why the Google Cloud ecosystem appealed to us.”

Giles Alexander, Chief Technology & Product Officer, Kooth

Going cloud native for rapid innovation

For Kooth’s engineering team, autonomy means the freedom to focus on improving Kooth’s applications and expanding into new product areas, without having to worry about infrastructure or scaling concerns. To stay agile and prioritize product development, the team decided to rebuild the platform, which has gone through several iterations since its launch in 2001, with a cloud-native infrastructure on Google Cloud in 2018.

“At our size, we just can’t afford to have engineers focused on managing machines or services, it’s not adding enough value for us,” says Alexander. “To deliver new features and improvements constantly, we want to use managed services whenever possible, which is why the Google Cloud ecosystem appealed to us.”

Today, most of Kooth’s applications run in Google Kubernetes Engine, which connects to a Cloud SQL database. Events are sent to the messaging middleware Pub/Sub, and from there to other services, such as BigQuery, which helps the team analyze large datasets and develop new data products for its customers.

“We’ve seen our peaks of users double. We turned to Cloud Logging and Istio to increase our monitoring capabilities, which has helped us to move quickly in remediating any performance bottlenecks, enabling us to meet increasing demand.”

Joe Ray, Lead Software Engineer, Kooth

Scaling with twice the record peaks

When the COVID-19 pandemic made remote mental health support a necessity, Kooth didn’t just have the right solution, but also the capacity to scale with the demand. By using the monitoring capabilities of Istio and Cloud Logging with Google Kubernetes Engine, the Kooth team was able to quickly understand its current capacities and potential scaling bottlenecks.

“We’ve seen our peaks of users double,” explains Joe Ray, Lead Software Engineer at Kooth. “We turned to Cloud Logging and Istio to increase our monitoring capabilities, which has helped us to move quickly in remediating any performance bottlenecks, enabling us to meet increasing demand.”

Delivering high-quality mental health content

But for Kooth, scaling with the demand isn’t just a technological issue. More people seeking support means more demand for the platform’s counselors and services. With Google Cloud, the team was able to move from spaced out big releases to releasing new features and updates constantly, giving Kooth users more avenues of support.

“All great product innovation happens when you can safely make lots of small changes constantly, and Google Kubernetes Engine enables us to do just that,” says Alexander. “We used to have one large release every 1,000 days, now we’re releasing twice a day, improving our platform incrementally.”

Among the features Kooth was able to roll out quickly and tweak with AB and multivariate tests is a set of guided activities to improve mental wellbeing, which is integrated with existing measures. “At various times in the pandemic, we had concerns about spikes in usage,” says Ray. “With Google Cloud, we’ve been able to implement new features quickly, supporting our users by continuing to offer high-quality services even during peaks of demand for our practitioners.“

After a year of incremental changes and tweaks, Kooth feels like an entirely new platform. “It’s faster, more stable, easier to use, looks better, and offers more features,” says Alexander. “And that’s because Google Cloud has enabled us to add new features and improvements, big or small, continuously.”

Making success measurable with data

Besides creating features for end users—those people joining the platform to access counseling and other services—Kooth also has to meet the needs of customers that pay to offer the service to their employees or students. Because Kooth is fully anonymous, it used to be difficult for these customers to gain insights about the platform’s usage.

Using BigQuery and the Pub/Sub messaging service, Kooth was able to launch a new reporting tool that provides customers with statistics, such as how many people access the service split by demographics. This gives customers a better understanding of what they’re actually paying for, while safeguarding the anonymity of each user.

Keeping sensitive information private

Anonymity is key to the trust users place in Kooth. Handling highly sensitive health information requires rigorous security processes, and Google Cloud helps the Kooth IT team protect its service from breaches and attacks. For example, applications are protected from web or denial of service attacks with Cloud Armor.

“We like how traceable the security model of Google Cloud is,” says Alexander. “We hired an external red team to conduct penetration tests, and they’ve confirmed that we’re very secure. We also love the simplicity of the Google Cloud authentication features, enabling us to give the right access permissions to the right people.”

“With Google Cloud, we've gone from being a business offering a service that happened to use computers, to truly being a technology-first digital company. We’re continually enhancing, iterating, and releasing new things, all to help us on our shared mission: making digital mental healthcare available to all.”

Giles Alexander, Chief Technology & Product Officer, Kooth

Building a hub for personalized mental wellbeing

Next, the Kooth IT team is looking to give its engineers even more autonomy with the serverless capabilities of Cloud Functions. “It’s great knowing that there’s a breadth and depth of Google Cloud services we can start leveraging as we grow,” says Ray. “Our team is already experimenting with Cloud Functions, which could help to bring down costs, decrease our time to market, and enable our team to focus on the things we really care about: building great solutions.”

Because different situations require different solutions and there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to mental health needs, Kooth will become even more personalized in the future. By increasing the platform’s data capabilities and releasing on an even faster schedule, the Kooth team will be able to build personalized, high-quality, and clinically validated measures to help more people receive the support they need.

Kooth’s fundamental mission, while expanding in scope, has remained the same over the years, but the company behind that mission has changed considerably. “With Google Cloud, we've gone from being a business offering a service that happened to use computers, to truly being a technology-first digital company,” says Alexander. “We’re continually enhancing, iterating, and releasing new things, all to help us on our shared mission: making digital mental healthcare available to all.”

Tell us your challenge. We're here to help.

Contact us

About Kooth

Kooth is the UK’s largest digital mental health provider that is safe, anonymous, and free at the point of access. Clinically driven and backed by practitioners and counselors, Kooth is a highly accessible platform that offers children, young people, and adults a range of mental health services, including live counseling sessions, mental health activities, and peer-to-peer support.

Industries: Healthcare
Location: United Kingdom