VMH Topics for 2023

It’s nice to be back and writing on the site again!

Visualising Mental Health (VMH) whilst a passion project, doesn’t get as much attention in my life as I’d like. That has meant an absence of 2023 updates.

But that hasn’t meant that it has stopped. We just finished putting a cohort of Communication Design students through the process!

So, I thought I’d post some updates.

I’ll start with the topics we gave students this year.

Quick aside, if this is the first time you are encountering VMH, the process works as follows.

  1. Psychologists put together a handful of topics that are mental health related.
  2. We give those topics to teams of Communication Design students at the University of South Australia and invite them to imagine and create novel products, services, campaigns and events built around those topics.
  3. We (the VMH team) provide support and guidance to the student teams in understanding these topics and translating those into design prototypes.
  4. We have a presentation day where student teams present their final prototypes.
  5. The best ones make it onto the VMH website (where you are now).

So, what were the topics for 2023? I am glad you asked!

We decided this year to focus on topics that have performed well in previous years. They are as follows:

Experiential avoidance

Experiential avoidance is a psychological concept that refers to the tendency to avoid or suppress uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, memories, or physical sensations. It involves a variety of strategies that people use to cope with emotional distress, such as distraction, substance use, avoidance, and other avoidance behaviors. While these strategies may provide temporary relief, they can also interfere with a person’s ability to engage with important activities and values, and can even worsen the emotional distress in the long run.

For example, someone who experiences social anxiety may avoid social situations to reduce their anxiety, but this avoidance can ultimately reinforce their fear of social situations and limit their opportunities for social connection and growth. Similarly, someone who struggles with negative thoughts may engage in activities like binge-watching TV or scrolling through social media to distract themselves from these thoughts, but this can lead to a cycle of avoidance and make it difficult to address the underlying issues.

Experiential avoidance is often associated with various mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Addressing experiential avoidance often involves developing more flexible, mindful, and values-driven responses to emotional distress.

Learn more

I think this video nicely explains the concept of experiential avoidance and why it can hold us back from living the life we want – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-ZuqeyxULM 

Your job as communication designers

Think about how you would communicate to someone the concept of experiential avoidance and why it can be unhelpful to avoid or suppress uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, memories, or physical sensations. Focus specifically on how the avoidance of certain internal experiences can lead us to miss out on doing things that would help us grow, become better people and find new and enjoyable activities.

Student mental health

Mental health is a crucial aspect of overall wellbeing, and university students are not immune to mental health challenges. In fact, research suggests that university students may be particularly vulnerable to stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. The transition to university life can be a significant stressor for many students, as they may experience academic pressure, social isolation, financial stress, and other challenges. Additionally, university students may be at a stage of life where they are still developing their identity and coping skills, which can further increase their vulnerability to mental health challenges.

It is important for universities to prioritize student mental health and provide resources and support for students who may be struggling. This can include access to mental health counseling services, peer support programs, stress reduction workshops, and other mental health resources. Additionally, universities can work to create a supportive and inclusive campus culture that promotes mental health and well-being. This can involve efforts to reduce stigma around mental health issues, increase awareness of available resources, and provide education and training on mental health topics.

Prioritizing student mental health is not only important for the well-being of individual students, but also for the overall success of universities. Students who are struggling with mental health issues may be less likely to succeed academically, and may also be at risk for dropping out of school. By prioritizing student mental health, universities can help to create a more supportive and successful learning environment for all students.

Learn more

Orygen Youth Health have been a leader in advocating for paying attention to university student mental health. Learn more about their key report ‘Under the Radar’ – https://www.orygen.org.au/About/News-And-Events/Mental-health-of-Australian-university-students-fl

Your job as communication designers

There are a few ways to approach this. For example, you could think about ways to communicate about student mental health that is likely to:

  1. Encourage individual students to make changes in their own life to improve their mental health
  2. Encourage students to look out for each other and care for each others’ mental health
  3. Encourage universities to offer additional supports to students
  4. Lead to more events or activities on campuses that are mental health focused
  5. Give students the tools and resources to look after their mental health
  6. Other

Part of the challenge of this concept is working out what aspect of student mental health you want to focus on in your tool, resource, technique, service or program.

Mentally healthy habits

Most of us are familiar with the idea of good habits that support physical health such as regular exercise, sleep and good nutrition. Many habits also support good mental health as well. Here are some habits that are beneficial:

  1. Regular exercise: Exercise has been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and can improve overall mood and self-esteem.
  2. Mindfulness meditation: This practice involves focusing on the present moment and can help reduce stress and anxiety.
  3. Getting enough sleep: Sleep is essential for mental health, and chronic sleep deprivation can lead to mood disorders and other mental health issues.
  4. Socializing: Building and maintaining healthy relationships with friends and family can improve one’s sense of belonging and support.
  5. Healthy diet: Eating a balanced and nutritious diet can help improve mood and energy levels.
  6. Setting boundaries: Learning to say no and setting healthy boundaries can help reduce stress and improve overall mental health.
  7. Practicing self-care: Engaging in activities that promote relaxation and self-care, such as taking a bath, reading a book, or spending time in nature can help reduce stress and promote overall wellbeing.

Developing and maintaining these habits may take time and effort, but they can have a positive impact on one’s mental health and overall quality of life.

Learn more

Australian mental health researchers have identified that people who report high levels of positive mental health are more likely to engage in 5 types of regular activities: meaningful activities, setting goals and plans, paying attention to their thinking, engaging in healthy lifestyle choices (e.g. sleep, nutrition, physical activity) and spending time with loved ones. You can learn more about that here.

Your job as communication designers

Your job is to alert people to what are some of the habits that improve and sustain mental health, as well as support them to develop those habits. For example, many people know that getting good sleep is beneficial, but they have trouble changing their sleep routines.

Social Isolation

Social isolation refers to the lack of meaningful social contact with others. It can result from a variety of factors, including geographical distance, illness, disability, age, and social anxiety. Long-term social isolation can have a negative impact on mental health, leading to increased feelings of loneliness, depression, anxiety, and stress.

To address social isolation, it is important to take intentional steps to increase social connection. One strategy is to engage in activities that promote social interaction, such as joining a social group or club, volunteering, or participating in community events. It may also be helpful to reach out to old friends or family members who may have become disconnected over time.

Another approach is to utilize technology to connect with others, such as video conferencing or social media. While technology should not be a replacement for in-person interactions, it can be a helpful tool to supplement social connection.

It may also be useful to seek support from a mental health professional or support group. These resources can provide a safe and supportive environment to discuss feelings of loneliness and isolation and explore strategies for increasing social connection.

Ultimately, addressing social isolation requires effort and intentionality. By taking steps to connect with others, individuals can improve their overall mental health and well-being.

Learn more

The Australia Institute of Health and Welfare have some Australian statistics on social isolation and loneliness – https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/social-isolation-and-loneliness-covid-pandemic

Your job as communication designers

Work out what aspect of social isolation and loneliness you are trying to change or influence. For example, are you:
Trying to provide opportunities for socially isolated people to connect
Alerting people who are socially isolated on what steps they can take to build social connections
Encourage all people to look out for friends or family members they think might be becoming isolated

Part of the challenge of this concept is working out aspect of social isolation you want to focus on in your tool, resource, technique, service or program.

If you were tasked with coming up with original ideas to communicate one of these concepts, which one would you pick?