Collaborative design research project tackles stigma of mental health

During National Mental Health Awareness Week, a global collaborative research project has completed its first phase of work; investigating how design communication and story telling can challenge the stigma of mental health issues.

The project instigated by graphic design staff at Falmouth and psychiatrists from Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, saw an initial branding project develop into a global service design challenge. This challenge centred on bringing shared insights from doctors, designers, carers and patients together; using storytelling through film and UX design to deconstruct and challenge the language and insights that so stigmatises those facing and living with mental health issues.

dr feedback session

med student workshop

Part of the project’s investigation unearthed the scale of the invisible epidemic facing the world, with mental healthcare spend and problems growing exponentially over the coming years.

By 2020 the NHS will face the reality of the problem being one of its biggest healthcare priorities. Globally it remains one of the greatest challenges in not only industrialised nations but developing economies too. As an example, China has upwards of 95 million cases affecting its citizens, 50% of which are created before the age of 14. In the UK, alongside physical medical conditions of the brain, day-to-day, 1 in 10 suffer from anxiety and depression. Longer term, 4 in 10 will experience depression in their lifetime and alongside the social and family challenges this brings, 70 million workdays are lost each year, having massive effect on the economy and life of our nation. The true reality of this epidemic has to be opened up for discussion and the Falmouth project; ‘Communicating Mental Health’ aims to confront the dilemma.

The scope of the project soon developed with a further two student design teams at Chinese Universities in Anhui and Jiangnan being briefed in China by designer and research lead Bryan Clark from Falmouth in March. Professor Dr Qingjun Chen and Professor Dr Barbara Wong were to manage the Chinese teams in their two respective Universities and the two psychiatry leads in Cornwall were Dr Adrian Flynn and Dr Rohit Shankar. Additionally, medical students from Exeter University joined some of the project team’s research investigations and co-discovery sessions. Technology support was aided by educational technologist Adel Gordon from Falmouth, setting up online web portals to share learning and insights. A key contributor to the project was Robert Woolfe, Director of Cornish service design company Made Open. Robert’s experience of working with Government, Design Council and communities around the UK, bought valuable project experience to the work of the Year 2 students at Falmouth, where he is also employed as an associate lecturer.

The last stage of work will see the integrated design solutions, campaigns and digital outputs shared with the project teams in Falmouth and China. Further testing will be run with doctors in Ghana, Ethiopia and Singapore for feedback to affirm potential impact and learning.

Head of Graphic Design Bryan Clark notes; “This has been an important project for us, addressing a truly global question through collaborative research, teaching and innovation. It also comes at an important time for the School and our learning, as we launch a new masters course in Communication Design. This explores the emerging landscape of design for human need in the context of a rapidly changing world and how the global creative industries and individuals can respond.  Cornwall too is on the map nationally with major new health funding from the Design Council coming to the South West. The project team aim to examine the opportunity of this news in the context of work undertaken to date and build on the great collaboration so far between design and science communities both in Cornwall and beyond”.

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