My mater's thesis focuses on using service design methodology and a co-design mindset to determine the ideal journey for college students to navigate the university mental health system and receive the care they need and deserve.
Since the start of my graduate program, I knew I wanted to explore some idea at the intersection between mental health and design. But I needed to define an appropriate research scope andI gathered information about contexts like stigma or mindfulness, modalities of delivering information about mental health, etc. The longer my exploration went on, however, the more I was hearing about calls to attention for improved mental health services at Ohio State. This included the reoccurring tragedy of falling deaths on campus in 2018, the formation of a university task and, most notably, student dissatisfaction for current services. This piqued my curiosity, steering me away from iterating on one idea or solution, and diving deeper into the voices of those who were disillusioned with campus mental health resources and what their varying experiences with this system entailed.
. The research area of college student mental health is young and plagued with issues that are still apparent today. Until the early 20th century, colleges and universities largely encouraged students to take physical education.
While not unique to Ohio State, campus mental health resources face many challenges in trying to meet student needs, including long wait times, brief therapy models, and a pervasive shortage of mental health professionals.
1) Explore the range and variety of experiences within student mental health, from the perspective of current and prospective college students, while detailing common experiences with student mental health resources
2) Extract insights on the sequences of events, choices, emotions, and reflection for each student’s lived experience
3) Analyze each student’s idealized experience and create common ties with the actualized experience (i.e., what occurred in the actual experience for the student to determine what should be present in the ideal experience?)
4) Highlight participatory design research as an approach for creating experiences true to actual users and reflective of their needs in cooperation with the expertise of mental health specialists
Participatory design can lead to a variety of different outcomes and outputs that don’t necessitate a reflection of solutions at different levels of an organization the way service design might. Conversely, the value of a service is usually examined and determined after implementation, rather than instilling value throughout the service design process. I set out to combine participatory and service design in this research and assess how one could illuminate one another.
The primary research consisted of two studies. In the first study, 30-minute individual, semi-structured interviews were conducted with students to gain an evaluation of their past experience with Ohio State’s services for the intention of receiving mental health care.
In the second, the same students visually conveyed their ideas in a co-design session for a more ideal experience in the intake process using provided materials. They were asked to create and present a visual persona of someone who is distressed and would benefit from mental health care. Students were then asked to create and present an ideal experience of seeking and receiving mental health treatment by creating a journey map that visualizes the experience of their personas. These methods were chosen as vehicles for students to imagine a better experience with mental health services with respect to another person’s experience.
After analysis and synthesis of student interview responses, the following primary themes emerged and characterized the current experience for students seeking help through university resources
Non-Individualized Care - Students described feeling like a number in the queue of other students entering the system.
Minimization - During triage, a specialist assesses the level of distress a student is experiencing and matches students to the recommended resources for that level. However, this can come with standardized formats and long wait times, leading the student to believe that their case is not as serious as others.
Disillusionment - Some students are very aware of the limitations of the current system and concede that quality of the services is just how it has to be. Students may seek external resources, but ultimately they decide not to further engage with the university resources.
While there were a wide variety of ideas generated for the realistic experience, there are three primary themes by which the students would define a more successful help-seeking experience.
Personalized Care - Students prefer their individual needs to be taken into full consideration when receiving care, such as those relating to identity and chosen modalities.
Education on Therapy - Students would feel more comfort entering the process when they know what to expect in their first experience with therapy.
Privacy during Intake - Students are able to disclose details of their distress in the comfort of a chosen environment.These ideas serve to inform mental health facilitators on campus about how to continue to develop resources that serve the current and relevant needs of the student body.
Resulting deliverables from the research included a journey map showing the current student experience interacting with campus mental health resources and a composite map for the ideal experience.
The following recommendations were also made to university mental health facilitators who were interested in new ideas for improving the delivery of student services:
1) Retain feedback on resource experiences and follow up with leadership on effectiveness of resources
2) Host regular co-creative workshops between students and specialists to bring new solutions into conversation and iterate on services