Visualising Mental Health is at least partly about science communication

‘Science communication is the communication of and about science to a general or non-expert audience’.

It is about those who work in a scientific field communicating the intricacies and nuances of the field to those without any training in the area.

This might be purely to share ‘interesting findings’ or it may be more targeted with the goal of modifying the attitudes or behaviour of members of the audience. For example, when I share information about strategies for building wellbeing, I am simultaneously communicating that there is some interesting science in the area of wellbeing, but I am also hoping that some members of the audience act on this new knowledge in their own lives.

Take for example an interesting study I looked at recently as part of my mental health promotion role at Flinders University – The study found evidence that using your mobile device during lectures impairs your long-term retention of the information presented during that lecture.

The mechanics of the study itself are interesting. The authors had to try and create a suitable real-world situation to test the hypothesis that mobile device use impairs retention. This included some interesting elements such as having a mobile device policing individual at lectures stopping students from using their devices. I could easily just have talked about the intricacies of how they did that. But in presenting this science I am also hoping to change the behaviour of the students that read that article. I want students to re-consider using their mobile devices during lectures.

I find that science communication in the behavioural sciences (like psychology) tends to have this dual aim.

  • Give people insight into how psychologists study human behaviour.
  • Extract from the science useful insights that those interacting with the material can use in their own lives.

I think this is why psychology is generally a popular topic. You can immediately start using a lot of what psychologists have learned in your own life. Psychology is the study of human behaviour. We are all surrounded by people whose behaviour we’d like to understand (and maybe influence).

The big challenge for any psychologist working in the science communication space is getting better at communicating ideas that are simple to them, but not necessarily simple for non-psychology trained individuals to understand.

I’ve spent almost 20 years wrapping my head around psychological concepts. I’ve forgotten what it is like to have never studied this area. Frequently, when I go to communicate psychological concepts to students who have never studied psychology, I lose them in the detail.

This is why the Visualising Mental Health (VMH) project is so interesting. We take psychological concepts, teach them to communication students to the point that we feel they are comfortable with the concept(s) and then let them loose on finding interesting ways to share what they’ve learned with a wider audience.

The VMH project adds a ‘translation’ element in the middle that helps us find new and more effective ways to communicate psychological concepts. Instead of me speaking directly to my audience, I do it through the filter of the communication design students. This forces me to focus on ensuring I explain the concepts well.

We’re heading into the part of the year where the students are finalising their concepts to be presented on the 18th June. Stay tuned for a future post on how that sessions goes.

Also, if you work in either the areas of communication design or psychology and you’d like play a role in the VMH project, get in contact with me –