Designing for Better Healthcare Access

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Stigma around mental health affects many. By the time we reach age 40, one in two Canadians will have experienced mental illness—and six in 10 Canadians with mood, anxiety, or substance use disorder don’t get treatment. Surprised it’s so many? That’s stigma at work.

Responding to this national problem, the Stratford School’s 2024 Design Jam sponsored by Sun Life Financial challenged students to design digital platforms where the user experience (UX)  can help destigmatize mental health.

The students on this year’s winning team know that stigma isn’t something we can overcome alone. Their project—a platform they called Mello—is all about connecting people to people.

“Personally, I want to engage with mental health supports by engaging with real people,” says Graeme Tooley, a Global Business and Digital Arts (GBDA) student. “I don't see how being put on hold on a call line or messaging a chatbot is helpful if I am seeking mental health assistance. I think that being face to face, or even voice to voice is critical for getting the support that is needed.”

Along with GBDA classmates Olivia Dunford, Aydan Nardi, Tina Nguyen, and Gaurav Shah, he helped design a platform that connects users to nearby health services that are covered by the user’s insurance. As well, Mello offers breathing exercises to calm an anxiety or panic attack, and allows users to track and record experiences and symptoms—creating a data log to support them during discussions with health care providers.

But Tooley points out that while their app can help build connections, someone must be on the other end for users to connect to: tech can’t replace trained professionals. “Reducing long wait times is also critical for designing solutions moving forward,” he says. “Having more availability for students to see psychiatrists or therapists would go a long way to stopping mental health crisis before they go too far.”

Students listening to the Design brief in the Atrium of the Stratford School

This article originally appeared in Waterloo Arts news.