Post Five: 🎙 Primary Research

Approaches to design for change, design-led ethnography and digital social research methods (Week 4)
Joy Li

Informal interview conducted on the 16th August 2017, between researcher (Joy Li) and two participants.

Research on a primary level generates new insights, shedding light on our preconceptions and challenging the entrenched convictions one may presume to hold. The ultimate goal was to facilitate an open-ended discussion and to initiate a conversation around the cultural barriers, modes of communications and sociological variances that surrounds mental health. As a semi-structured interview, the order and particular phrasing of questions were dismissed for a more natural and smooth flowing conversational process.

On an inherently personal level, assessing the participant’s context to capture their rich background of knowledge enabled a comparative evaluation on the contrasting notions embedded within the current framework of understanding in Australia. During the conversation, the immediate topic of cross cultural differences in the discussion of mental health arose as the most topical issue experienced by both parties. One of the more revealing aspects exposed the barriers of accessibility and affordability of mental health treatments and facilities within Asia, specifically Mainland China.

On another level, certain anecdotal evidence provided by the interviewees validated my prior understanding of the cultivated stigmas and preconceived notions attached to a non-westerner’s evaluation of an individual’s psychological state.

“I had this one friend who was in my general school (in China) who dealt with some things but she wouldn’t talk to anyone about it. Mostly it was because no one helped her. You know what my school did? They told her to please stop studying and just go home.”

“I know that parents tell their children “don’t play with him, he’s very strange!” In school if there are children whose actions aren’t normal, teachers invite their parents to come and tell them directly that their son has a problem, making their lives harder and harder.”

“In my family, my great aunt had a mental disorder and it was passed down to her grandson. It sucks how there is a chance this can happen if it runs in the family. One of my dad’s friends from high school went mad after a bad breakup and was sent to Shanghai to be treated. It is a true story. What’s worse is that my father believes that since it is genetic, that it will be passed down to the son. It’s an issue that needs more discussion and research. This is such a difficult issue to solve. It covers so many different aspects and on so many levels, biology, anatomy, psychology… it goes on. It’s like the more your research and think about it, the more hopeless you feel.”

From a non-western background, their cultural values and views shifted through both the passage of time and distance. Their views towards an Australian approach to education and social interaction become apparent through their observations and scrutiny of certain practices.

“From what I see I know that from a young age, Australian’s teach their children to be more understanding and to help others in need. Also I find that they are more accepting and see those in more difficult circumstances as people who deserve the same rights as you. Not in China where they just want them to stay as far away as possible. It’s a different thinking.”

Delving further into familiar territories, the private lives of each interviewee revealed dramatically different perspectives and practices when bringing up mental health related issues. On one hand, one interviewee’s relationship with their family enable these structures of silence to be built, creating a barrier between themselves and their emotions. Whilst the other has an actively open relationship with their immediate family. Yet at the same time they both acknowledge that certain issues are dealt with diversely and communicated differently, dependent on their circumstance.

“I know that some things you will need to talk to others of the same age but certain life issues you would want to talk to your parents.”

Stemming off these everyday interactions, the methods and means of seeking emotional validation and conversation was raised. Within this technological epoch, their main source of support was undoubtedly sought through digital mediums, more so as they live a significant distance away from any immediate kin. Interestingly, one participant revealed their previous encounters with healthcare professionals within the digital environment.

“… when I’m worried I would go search up doctors from China and join them on WeChat and social media sites and employ their services by calling them up or talking to them online.”

Interestingly, secondary research reports that the general consensus of young adults tend to keep their mental health matters detached from social media sites. Whereas an individual’s first hand experiences of trawling through these sites reveal other habits and social behaviours that are often overlooked or unfounded.

Upon further enquiry to more traditional methods of treatment, such as medications, their views remained neutral but displayed similar sentiments in their views on the over reliance on medication as a long-term unsustainable practice.

Equally important, the individualist view and ignorance once held towards the cross-cultural value systems of mental health have been supplanted with a more distinct acknowledgement of the everyday universality yet nuanced specificity that makes social issues so challenging to grasp.

Probing Task

Outline: The conditions for the probe required the participant to record their most important daily interaction, their relation to the individual, length, general topic/sentiment and the method of communication for a week.

By breaking down the individual elements of social communication methods whether digitally or in person, the aim is to examine an individual’s everyday connections, drawing out relationships and assumptions of their significance to one’s general sense of belonging and place in the world.


Probe Results_joyliRaw results

The results were a mixed bag of intimate insights as well as a series of mundane formalities. From family life, friends, colleagues to acquaintances, each respective group in the interviewee’s life are linked through various networks and shared mediums. Digging deeper, observing this process through an individual’s thinking patterns is one of the most important but least documented aspects of our wellbeing. The journaling process actively garners a greater self-awareness of how and why we experience certain emotions, drawing connections between how we perceive certain situations and what we feel about them.

Assuming from the progressively scant amount of entries, the probing exercise was perhaps too demanding as it required a much more detailed dataset over a longer period of time. Unlike steps walked or calories burnt, emotions are more nuanced. Gaining valuable insights requires greater reflection and a willingness to dwell on occasionally uncomfortable thoughts. As the output didn’t match the expectations, there is much room for improvement regarding specificity or rewording of the conditions in order to derive a more meaningful set of results.

Five Point Summary

  1. The interview exposed the barriers of accessibility and affordability of mental health treatments and facilities within Asia, specifically Mainland China.
  2. Cross cultural belief systems exist in an individual’s acknowledgment of mental health as a social issue and methods to address them.
  3. Mental health issues are circumstantial. There are no right or wrong ways in approaching education and treatment strategies, only what is right for each individual.
  4. Growing digitisation of everyday life allowing more young people to seek online resources.
  5. Primary research enables one to look through an individual lens whilst Secondary information affords a more generalised view.


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