My friend and colleague Sophia, is also investigating mental health and anxiety for her final year project. However, her project differs greatly from mine through its focus on developing a product based ritual to fend off panic attacks.

Today, we joined forces and ran an impromptu focus group embedded in an event run by the Dundee University Mental Health Society. The event, called  ‘Speak Out’, aims to encourage open conversation around mental health topics. There was 7 students from the University of Dundee participating in the discussion. Today’s event also had a guest with a great deal background working in the mental health support environment. Tom Garnett is the executive officer of the Dundee Association for Mental Health and has been directly involved in the mental health space since graduating with a Dundee University psychology degree in 1970.

In asides from the main conversation, Tom and I spoke at great length about my project. A lot of the insights mirrored those previously gathered from therapists and my participants, but fresh thoughts from a potential user group and professional who deals with mental health issues on a daily basis was invaluable. There was discussion around some of my key concepts and MK1 prototypes yielding feedback which will feed directly into MK2.

 

Five of the key takeaways from the roundtable discussion:

  • One of the biggest problems with mental health issues is that they’re completely intangible -> you can’t see the severity of it.
    • When someone breaks a leg they clearly have an issue with their wellbeing. When someone feels emotionally vulnerable, severely anxious or clinically depressed there’s no way for the outside world know how much they are suffering. One person may be able to deal with something fine while another might be emotionally or mentally crippled by it.
      • It’s all about perception and perceived suffering.
    • My project aims to suggest a potential solution to this by creating a tangible reference point for perceived suffering to the outside world while retaining individual ownership of the stories, notes and recordings which it represents.
  • We each only have a single reference point for mental and emotional wellbeing.
    • You can’t ‘get inside someone else’s head’ to find out how they feel in relation to how you feel.
    •  As a result, often we have no idea that there are others both all over the world and right in front of us who currently or previously have similar experiences.
    • This idea of connection breaking isolation was previously explored in Steve Swanton’s LUX Lamp project (connecting Seasonal Affective Disorder sufferers through a lamp) from DJCAD Product Design 2014.
  • Talking to to people about your issues is always the number one way to feel better about issues.
    • Open conversation helps the healing process – just letting someone know and talking through issues.
      • Sometimes an issue can get so severe that this becomes difficult -> this is one of the places my tool can interject
    • Tom mirrored previous interviewees and general discussion that ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’
    • Interpersonal relationships are the backbone of human happiness.
  • Making a note of unhelpful/negative thoughts when you experience them is helpful for getting a handle on yourself
    • Tom has kept a notebook at hand to do just this for over 40 years.
    • It helps you get a handle on yourself and understand yourself
      • Lets you take a step back and get a ‘almost like an outsiders perspective on you and the way you think’
      • Including identifying triggers for stressful/anxious/depressive thoughts which could be subconscious.
    • ‘It’s kinda like having a conversation with yourself “- Looking back and seeing how you were doing – where you’ve come from, what’s happened, how your thinking has changes
    • It encourages ownership of thought and taking control of the way you think – part of CBT and ACT frameworks.

 

 

Scratch notes from the focus group:

Focus1Focus2

 

 

Bigger project related thought (warning, critical design idea ahead):

The quantifiability of emotional/mental health is a key topic which my project aims to explore and provoke conversations around. I want to achieve this while still retaining functionality and usefulness as a tool for support scenarios.

What if a machine or tool could let the outside world know how awful you feel without directly showcasing your thoughts and feelings? What if it could map emotional stress levels across a day a week a month a year?

Machines aren’t humans, they don’t judge you. They don’t care. They only know facts and figures.