• Aimee Tasker

Supporting mental health research

The sensitivity of the mental health field poses real challenges to the opportunity for active engagement in mental health research. Without further research — a lack of time invested and funding is given — innovation in mental health science will slow at pace.

The team I've been working with, partnered with Wellcome Trust to explore the mental health landscape globally. By taking a human-centred design approach, we've uncovered real stories, barriers and opportunities to engage people in mental health and mental health research.

New companies like Monzo already doing great things to design with mental health in mind, and there are a vast number of self-care apps. NHS Digital have introduced the Mental Health Data Hub to share data from resources in England. Making services available to everyone is something Government Digital Service has been doing a great job at applying. Ensuring all services are accessible for people with mental health conditions and not contributing to increased feelings of anxiety

Designing prototypes to inform insight

In the studio, we created early versions of prototypes to test our hypotheses and ideas. A prototype might be a sketch to show a stakeholder or potential users, or a clickable digital mockup.

They are a valuable tool for co-creating with users, by putting them in front of people, we can learn about the users in ways interviewing might not be able to help. These lo-fidelity clickable prototypes, help to mitigate significant risks (time/money) and inform the case for next actions.

For this project, we looked to gain more insight into engaging people in mental health research. Everyone's heard of Cancer Research, how can we elevate Mental Health Research to the same level? The design challenge: How we might improve engagement with young people with lived experience of anxiety and/or depression?

Prototyping an online experience (for a digital-savvy user) that would be calming, reassuring and motivating for people with anxiety/depression, and also support research along the way. We designed a friendly visual style for inclusivity and designed for security and privacy features and tested the prototype with people with lived experience in 4 continents as well as workshops in the UK. An example of what this prototype looked like and how it worked:

By creating this, we could find out if a concept like this would be desirable, usable and valuable to the audience. The visual stimulus is not only beneficial to the potential user, but also for the stakeholders - including the people with the purse strings. There's no need to spend a long time building a real thing. By testing initial hypotheses and understanding users, the team can set the direction for a clear product or service strategy.

To scale engagement in mental health science, we believe the voice of the public can be amplified by leveraging platform technologies to crowdsource ideas, data and participation from around the world.

Some key findings:

  • Young people are willing to co-create studies and play a more significant role in shaping the field.

  • Making mental health studies salient are vital to engage people at the right time.

  • Speak to people with lived experience values, not to their conditions.

  • And importantly, make the academic field more approachable, personable, culturally-diverse and inclusive, so it's accessible to all.

Speaking to friends and my network about their mental health was also eye-opening. One in four people suffer from their mental health, and I'm so happy to see more people speaking up and sharing their experiences. As part of our understanding of ourselves, we need more research and knowledge in the science of mental health collectively we need more time and money to dedicate to this field - something we are proud to have supported in doing.

This project helped win a million-pound bid in further developing mental health science. It also led on to further prototyping with BAME communities to understand the cultural context in mental health research.

Thanks to Wellcome Trust, MQ, McPin Foundation and YoungMinds as well as all the people with lived experience we spoke with. You were all wonderful and dedicated to the continuous learning of mental health science.

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