This project was done as a 14-week collaboration with SocialWorks, a Chicago nonprofit working toward youth empowerment. Through its program "My State of Mind," SocialWorks challenged designers to use visualizations for impactful storytelling as a way to bring attention and communicate important concepts around mental health, especially when engaging with the younger adult audience where textual explanation can be a barrier.
The initial task of creating visualizations from its data sets evolved into an extensive study of the mental health space, identifying principles of community engagement among youths and social determinants that create accessibility and equity barriers in the communities.
Nearly one in five US adults live with a mental illness (2019). Young adults aged 18–25 years had the highest prevalence of mental illness (29.4%) and suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 10–34. On average, those with severe mental illness die 25 years earlier than their peers.
Mental health problems have become one of the most prevalent health disorders: they are highly inconspicuous and silent killers. Our research indicated that mental health issues silently aggravate over a period of time because of accessibility challenges faced by specific communities and lack of understanding around the disorder. The US healthcare systems have failed to deal with this shadow epidemic. In our research we found out that community intervention can be one viable and effective approach to address this issue.
The team created two types of static and interactive data visualizations—one algorithmically drawn from a dataset using Tableau and the other inquiry-driven prototypes using information derived from primary research synthesis. All of these visualizations were compiled in a catalog named "You Need To See It to Understand It," which surfaces community mental health insights and adds to the breadth of "My State of Mind" initiative from SocialWorks as a comprehensive mental health resource to empower youths in addressing mental health issues within their communities.
Using data visualization, "You Need To See It to Understand It" roots out information and accessibility impediments to mental healthcare and expands the intervention from the fixative approaches of addressing mental health into proactive approaches.
By transforming isolated data points into "actionable" information, our solution "You Need To See It to Understand It" empowers youths and individuals at the community level—unlike any existing solution. We need to address this very issue of inconspicuous mental health symptoms going unnoticed until they result in cataclysmic outcomes.
Why this solution?
Our approach, to intervene at the community level by sharing information, will empower communities, encourage awareness and self-sufficiency, and promote the overall health and wellbeing of such communities. It will also reduce the burden on struggling healthcare systems in the United States.
A 22-year-old young man suffering from schizophrenia gets killed by police with a taser. An 18-year-old teen suffering from psychosis kills his whole family. A barely clothed, mentally challenged woman freezes to death near a metro station. These are all examples of tragedies that could have been prevented if the problems were identified and interventions came at the right time.
However, on the contrary, we are staring at an unprecedented increase in the number of cases of mental health disorders in the US. The pandemic has only acted as a catalyst, and the resulting economic recession has negatively affected people's mental health and created new barriers for people already suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders. According to one report by the Kaiser Foundation, the average share of adults reporting symptoms of Anxiety Disorder and/or Depressive Disorder increased to 42 percent in January 2021, up from 11 percent in June 2019.
We cannot ignore the inability of the healthcare system to effectively address this issue so far. This is primarily because of the individualistic, clinical, and fixative approaches with which it has been trying to address the problem of mental healthcare. We see a clear need to shift the existing perspectives and look at mental healthcare through a new lens. Using our data visualizations, we intend to inspire new areas of mental health focus, surface community mental health insights, place the power of information within the grasp of communities, and above all add to the breadth of "My State of Mind" as a comprehensive mental health resource.
We propose three attainable primary shifts using these data visualizations as an empowerment tool.
1. From individually-focused care to community-focused care
2. From reactive (fixative) approaches to proactive (preventive) approaches in care delivery
3. From a clinical perspective to a place-based perspective of addressing mental health
Through these shifts, we intend to decentralize the power of understanding and addressing the problem of mental health disorders. Our research suggests that community intervention can be one viable and effective approach to address this issue. We aim to add individuals from the community as primary stakeholders to the ecosystem of mental health by empowering them with information and resources to intervene and act as necessary.
The class started with an interview with Justin Cunningham, the co-founder of SocialWorks, to get information about the current state, the challenges, and the role SocialWorks plays in addressing mental health needs. Justin connected us with experts and volunteers who would be able to help us dive deeper into our research, aside from our own secondary research. As a class of 16 students, we came together to analyze and synthesize available literature on mental health to inform our inquiry further.
User interviews in the following weeks helped us understand and see the domain of mental health from new perspectives. We debriefed individual interview highlights with our peers and SocialWorks and discussed the correlation of all data points with each other. We did a subsequent synthesis of all the primary and secondary data we now had. It helped us identify four interrelated factors at play that affect mental health care support.
Self-awareness is essential to understanding one's needs, which is required to articulate desired support. Such articulation can work to improve local and individual support programs, which can reduce cultural stigma and in effect develop a cultural mindset of support.
We used a non-linear research approach to extract insights and opportunities based on:
• Credible literature from government, non-profit resources, and healthcare journals
• Primary research data from interviews with young adults in the community and experts engaged in addressing mental health in different capacities
• Data set provided by SocialWorks
A major impediment in addressing mental health is that people do not understand mental health well. This hinders their access to tools for self-help like finding a space to share and support deeper conversations around mental health because people have no idea of what to expect in the form of support.
Our interviews indicated deriving strength from relationships, building trust, and authentic conversations are vital for a community that is supportive of mental health needs.
Building local sufficiency also acts as a foundation for collective needs. There is a need for a holistic approach towards addressing mental health. Medication, nutrition, mental wellness, and community support play an important role in one's betterment.
Lack of access to personal mental healthcare due to cultural, behavioral, socioeconomic, and environmental barriers makes it difficult to approach personalized care for young adults. However, the existing efforts show that building local resource ecosystems would be helpful to overcome the structural inaccessibility that stems from unequal allocation of resources. This allows for the building of safe spaces that would be helpful to initiate conversations and strengthen self-confidence, critical to motivate young adults facing mental health issues to address and manage them. And to achieve this holistic intervention we need to empower the community with information.
We went through multiple rounds of iterations. The first part of the ideation session was spent on using the quantitative data from SocialWorks to discuss ideas and make algorithmic visualizations on Tableau. We found interdependencies between our data and data in the public domain to form usable visualizations, such as the proximity of available mental health resources to public transport, the cost of treatment at the facilities, and the distribution of the clinics based on various demographics. We then used the insights and related quotes to form topics and subtopics based on people's activities, ambitions, anxieties, and attitudes. We discussed our topics with SocialWorks for prioritization and better alignment with their requirements.
Once we had a clear alignment of goals with SocialWorks, we moved to address the challenges around those topics through different forms of data visualizations. We evaluated the visualization prototypes on the following parameters:
• Purpose of the visualization
• Questions being addressed through our visualization
• Real-world opportunities for application of the visualization - the environment in which it could be viewed (schools, community center, online resources), people who would use it (young adults, mental healthcare professionals), and the overall context in which it will be shared
The catalog titled "You Need To See It To Understand It" is a collection of >
•Social Circle (Personal Network)
By illuminating these key aspects with information and layered perspectives in conjunction with the My State of Mind platform, we create a pathway toward expressions of empathy and common wellness that can live in the hands of the residents of Cook County in Chicago.
Every individual health journey starts with the self. Young adults are still learning how to be aware of their needs. Understanding one's self and one's own needs are empowering and allow for the openness of improvement and moving forward. The chapter on Self runs the gamut from individual self-exploration to educational diagrams of new self wellness methods.
Understanding my social circle:
The Social Circle is the network surrounding the self that gives resilience to individuals. Social circles are essential for maintaining healthy mental health. Relationships with friends and family can play a huge role in our mental wellbeing as they provide emotional support, along with encouragement and optimism. As individuals, we are more open to conversations on mental health when we relate to the people involved. Therefore, educating oneself and the social circle will help reduce stigma around mental health and open avenues to share one's vulnerabilities, leading to individual and collective wellbeing.
Understanding my community:
The community encompasses people you relate or connect to but may or may not interact with, including those in your neighborhood. Community mental health has a deep-rooted history in Chicago that is continuing to evolve to this day. Learning the history of mental health and the events that shaped community mental healthcare in Chicago is imperative to understand how the mental health space and resources got to where they are today. Additionally, specific Chicago neighborhood information reveals how different communities have been impacted and the factors contributing to care in those areas.
Functionally, "You Need To See It To Understand It" is a narrative collection of the mental health journey from Self, to Social Circle, to Community. With this inside-out organization of the visualizations, we intend to show where and how these tools can be used, as well as which audiences might find it helpful. It is also our goal to suggest that this journey can become a method of progression that ends with communities having a better understanding of their personal health and a level of agency to share this understanding with those around them for collective well-being.