VMH Topics for 2019

Update: 6/3/18

The topics for this year have been finalised and presented to the students. They are as follows:

Topic 1 – Emotions
Our lives are richly emotional, but sometimes we don’t take time out of our day to think more deeply about our emotions. For this topic, design teams are challenged to develop interesting and unique communication approaches to assist the general public on understanding emotions, what constitutes normal emotions and how to better manage those that they find unpleasant.

Topic 2 – Courtesy
As a society, are we getting less polite over time? Courtesy – the showing of politeness in one’s attitude and behaviour towards others – is not something we want to lose in our society. In this topic, design teams are challenged to select a common, yet challenging situation and explore the courtesy requirements for that situation and then develop a communication strategy to provide instruction on those courtesy requirements.

Topic 3 – Evidence in health
Human beings can be incredibly irrational, and in the area of health, this might be getting worse as public trust in scientists and science seems to be declining. In this topic, teams are challenged to develop a device/ communication strategy / psychological aid that helps restore people’s faith in science, gets them to notice and challenge their irrational tendencies and teaches people how to seek out good quality evidence about their health.

Topic 4 – Mental Fitness
When we want to get physically fit, we exercise regularly. But what do we do if we want to get mentally fit? In this topic, design teams are challenged to develop a device/ communication strategy / psychological aid that encourages people to add and sustain some psychologically healthy activities to their lifestyle, with the goal of improving some aspect of their mental health.

Topic 5 – Empathy
Being able to put ourselves in each other’s shoes is central to being able to form and maintain supportive relationships. For some people, and in some situations this is difficult. In this topic groups are challenged to come up with a device/ communication strategy/ psychological aid that helps teach empathy in one of two quite different scenarios: teaching people with Autism Spectrum Disorders, or amongst adults who interact a lot on social media.


Update: 12/1/18

Having discussed the 2019 plans with some of the participating psychologists, we are going to let each of the psychologists select their own topic. I am going to stick with my ‘Mental Fitness’ topic as it closely aligns with what I do as part of my job at Flinders. Sarah and the crew at IPPP are sticking with their empathy/theory of mind topic. Richard is putting together a topic as I write this. The fourth and fifth topics remain a mystery!


So I am starting to think about what topics we’ll give students for the 2019 iteration of Visualising Mental Health (VMH).

We typically give students a selection of 4-5 topics.

We’ve varied these over the three years of the project so far, and find that some topics perform well, that is, they inspire students to create great projects, whilst other topics seem to confuse students.

Without giving too much away, here are my thoughts for the selection of topics for 2019.

Applying the principles of cognitive-behaviour therapy (CBT) to everyday life

CBT is a model of therapy that psychologists use to help individuals make significant life changes and also deal with psychological disorders like anxiety and depression.

There are ideas and concepts in CBT that anyone can apply to their everyday life. For example, the idea that our feelings reflect our underlying thinking can help us focus on our thoughts and beliefs, rather than our emotions, when trying to deal with difficult situations.

I am keen to continue with this topic into 2019, with a focus on projects that teach people what techniques to use when trying to make healthy lifestyle changes such as improving their diet, getting more physical activity and sleeping better.


One of the most successful topics in the VMH initiative has been about emotions and students exploring novel ways of talking about emotions with the general public.

Our lives are highly emotional, and our emotions shape how we see the world and how we interact with it.

Fostering a greater understanding of emotions can help people navigate the challenges of modern life.

In this topic, students are challenged to teach people about their emotions, with a focus on managing the ones that are more challenging.

Mental Fitness

This is a new topic I am putting together for 2019.

Mental fitness is not a term that is used a lot, but the parallels with physical fitness make it an interesting concept to talk about with people.

In the same way that personal trainers can help someone learn how to look after their physical fitness, psychologists can help individuals learn how to improve their mental fitness.

People who are mentally fit tend to be happier, more productive, more resilient to set-backs and less likely to develop mental illness.

Building mental fitness is not necessarily very complex and most of us can work on our mental fitness through simple regular habits.

In this topic, we’ll get students to explore interesting ways to let people know about these habits.

Teaching empathy

In 2018, thanks to the suggestion of one of our participating psychologists Sarah, we gave students a topic on ‘Theory of Mind’. Theory of mind is “the ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, emotions, knowledge, etc.—to oneself, and to others, and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives that are different from one’s own”.

This year, I am thinking of focusing this topic around empathy – the capacity to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand what they are experiencing. This is because of the comments of one our partner individuals, from the IPPP who wondered if we could perhaps teach empathy more effectively.

This is a topic that is highly relevant to students who want to do design and communication work with children. Empathy is a skill that can be taught to children and is predictive of their social and emotional health as they move into adulthood.

Mystery topic

Whilst 4 topics is generally enough, I am playing with the idea of a fifth topic for 2019. I’ll keep this one a secret for the time being though 🙂