Connecting with the Disconnected.

POST 8: Design Proposal

IDENTIFYING THE PROBLEM SPACE

I must be honest, over the past number of weeks of research I have been extremely indecisive about the potential focus for my design proposal. I have been flicking my interest within the issue of Mental Health constantly. I have found it incredibly difficult to pinpoint a specific aspect that interests me, as I start to get excited with every new piece of information I may find. I would breathe a sigh of relief and think; this is it! I want to research this further! Only to find the next sentence is just as eye-opening as the last.

However, looking back on my patterns of research I can’t shake my concern for the mental health experiences in rural and regional Australia. Having grown up in urban Sydney my entire life, I feel spoilt for choice in terms of mental health services. I have a HeadSpace centre within walking distance of my home, I knew where my school counsellor’s office was and when he was in, I could name at least 5 different mental health organisations off the top of my head and find their webpages and phone numbers within seconds. This slightly dark luxury of mine is something I have never considered until I started to reflect on my own experience during this research process. Young people in rural and regional areas – particularly males – have the highest instances of mental illness, yet are the least likely to seek help and treatment. Consequently and horrifically this group also have the highest recorded rates of suicide in Australia. The statistics themselves are enough to make me want to yell: “What are we doing about it?!” But the circumstances of geography, technological access and social context are all factors that are against motions to change these facts.

I was sitting on the train one afternoon and noticed an advertisement directed at parents that was urging them to notice the signs of anxiety and depression in their adolescent children. It warned that young people rarely seek help if their parents are not initiating the process or at least a huge support in the process. I was reminded of a statistic I read from Black Dog Institute that noted that 70% of people living with mental illness in rural and regional Australia do not seek help. I started to imagine the young adults and the adolescents living in these isolated spaces who might not have the social advantage of us living in highly populated areas when it comes to support networks and prevalence of treatment centres. If young people are not informed enough to seek help, feel as if no one will listen, do not know where to go or are simply too frightened to speak out then what chance to they have of ever breaking through that initial stage of silence?

W, W, W, W & W.

  1. WHO does the problem affect?
    The main actors affected by this issue are young people struggling with mental illness who live in rural and regional areas of Australia – as well as their families,
    local healthcare professionals and online mental health initiatives. 
  2. WHAT are the boundaries of the issue?
    This issue is primarily as a result of a lack of awareness in these rural and regional communities for mental illness and it’s potential pathways to help. However it is also clearly a structural issue as there simply not enough facilities in place for these isolated areas let alone initiatives that are accessible for young people sometimes acting alone. 
  3. WHEN does it occur?
    Right at the core of this issue is that young people suffering from mental illness in rural and regional areas are uninformed about seeing the signs of mental illness, are frightened or uncomfortable speaking out or may not have the support systems in place. The geographical location hinders their chances of speaking out due to three main factors;
      –  There simply isn’t the same facilities or resources available as there is in urban areas. In some cases there may be one local GP who has limited experience in mental illness.
    –  The intimacy of rural life means that individuals are fearful of everyone ‘finding out’ about their mental health. (“everybody knows everybody’s business in a small town”)
    –  The culture of resilience and self-reliance in rural communities means people are reluctant to speak out if they are struggling.
  4. WHERE does the problem occur?
    This issue occurs on a personal level for so many young people living in rural and regional communities. It can become an issue within the household, or stretch within their wider community, but it’s the lack of recognition and stigma associated with seeking help that prevents a possible solution.
  5. WHY is this issue important?
    You can see how important this issue is if you just read any statistic for suicide in rural and regional Australia. Young people in this areas are the most at risk of suicide and that fact alone is enough to need immediate solutions. We cannot neglect the communities that are out of our urban centres. Australia is a hugely diverse landscape with rural and regional areas that are so essential to our cultural, social and geographical identity, and we cannot turn a blind eye to the young people suffering in these areas. We need to allow young people to start the recovery process on their own if they are unable to reach out to a healthcare professional or a family member. We need to break down the culture and stigma that hinders sufferers from seeking help. 

PROBLEM STATEMENT

Young people living in rural and regional communities are reluctant to make the step to seek self-initiated help for mental illness due to the lack of health care facilities, the burden of social stigma and the lack of emotional support.

IDEATION

After identifying my problem statement, we moved on to the Collaborative Brainstorming process. While I was nervous about having an entire group look onward as I write my problem statement in the centre of a large page, I knew that I always find these group idea generation tasks quite beneficial in my process.

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After the initial brainstorming process, I started to identify 5 areas that I might want to expand on further and could lead to potential design proposals (Marked with Red Asterisk). I felt that while I had basic ideas of where these may lead, I needed to expand on them just a little further in order to see their strengths and weaknesses as actual design projects:

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5 POTENTIAL DIRECTIONS

  • Data Visualisation comparing the experiences of mental illness of young people living in rural and regional areas with that of young people in urban areas. A multi layered data visualisation that would feature comparisons in statistical data, including suicide rates, facilities utilised as well as actual accessibility to healthcare, issues of alcohol and abuse and other potential factors that may influence the differences between urban and rural experience. This data visualisation would aim to raise awareness of the disadvantages for young people in rural and regional areas in regard to the treatment and experience of mental illness.
  • Online or Mobile Mindfulness application that acts as a subscriptive service targeted toward youth living in rural and regional Australia. Inspired by the Headspace UK Application, the design would feature mindfulness tasks and resources for young people looking to seek help on their own terms. Mindfulness is an incredibly useful skill to incorporate into everyday life and one of the easiest ways to help improve wellbeing and combat mental illness.
  • ‘Shout Into the Void’ Online program that allows individuals to submit a secret or a burden playing on their mind that disappears once it is posted. Similar to the “Scream Into The Void” Webpage featured on talk show; Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, but more directed toward breaking down the sense of loneliness and isolation that comes with dealing with mental illness in rural and regional areas. When users ‘shout’ (type, write or draw) a confession into the void,  they receive someone else’s anonymous ‘shout’ back to them. Understanding that you’re not alone, understanding that there are other people out there who feel the same and that you can make it together.
  • ‘What Makes me Happy’ Photo project, inspired by my own personal probe task from an earlier blog post, this project would encourage rural and regional young people to send snapshots of one moment a day that fills them with joy or makes them feel calm, relaxed or hopeful. The photos would then be exhibited in an online space which would allow us to see a small amount of data about the individuals, their age, their location and an insight into what they care about. The main purpose of the project is not to view the data however, it is to allow youth in rural and regional areas the opportunity to take time to mindfully appreciate small snapshots of their lives that fill them with positivity. One of my family members who suffers from severe depression was encouraged to do 5 small things for themselves everyday, be it buying a coffee or taking time to sit in the sunshine. Being mindful of the things in your life that are stable and positive is just one self-initiated treatment for mental illness and can really help you to slowly lift your mood on a daily basis.

DESIGN PROPOSAL

 

While still in it’s initial stages, what I am currently proposing is a generative design installation that comments on the isolation of young people experiencing mental illness in rural and regional communities. The installation would be linked to a live website that would be targeted toward rural and regional young Australians. It would feature a large-scale real time projection in a public space in Sydney of submissions from the webpage. The sentence to young people (could) be; ‘It Makes Me Sad When….’ or ‘Today I feel…’ Rural youth would be invited to draw or write a response to this question on a shared mural and have their answer added to the live projection in urban Sydney. The program would then identify the location of submission and allow rural responses to be added to the real-time projection. Beside each message the age and location of the individual would be identified. Above the installation would read, ‘Young Australians in rural and regional Australia are the group most at risk of suicide. This is what makes the youth of rural Australia sad:’ There would be cameras present above the mural that would allow youth using the website to see real time images of the people of city reading their words.

This design would not be trying to propose any solutions, nor would it be trying to replace discussions with psychologists, but rather it is used as a way to conceptually break down the barriers of physical isolation that prevent our young people from reaching out. The social, geographical and cultural factors that make young rural Australians the least likely to seek help for a mental illness can start to be erased as we finally address the sheer horror of this growing issue. Young people are able to address how they feel and understand that people will listen.

 

REFERENCES

2014, Black Dog Institute, Rural Mental Health Appeal, viewed 15th September 2016, <http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/public/getinvolved/ruralmentalhealthappeal.cfm&gt;.

Warren, F. 2005, PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions From Ordinary Lives, William Morrow, USA. see also: <http://postsecret.com/&gt;.

2016, HeadSpace Incorporated, London, Mobile Application, <https://www.headspace.com/&gt;.

2015, Scream Into The Void, viewed 15th September 2016, <http://screamintothevoid.com/&gt;.