People struggling with mental illnesses are met with stigma. People who internalize this stigma are often unable to receive the treatment they need because they don’t want to be associated with the labels, stereotypes, and discrimination perpetuated by society. As a result, people with self-stigma have diminished self-esteem, self-efficacy, and confidence to achieve life goals. In order to overcome this, research shows that personal empowerment and conquering cognitive distortions can be a solution.
02. Context Analysis
People with mental health disorders fear labels such as “you’re violent/crazy/unstable/dangerous”, which can be applied just by being seen exiting from a psychologist’s office. These stigmas can also be attached to a person attending a peer support group, which is a valuable service that brings people together affected by a similar concern, and provides support, encouragement, and hope. So how do we treat internalized stigma if people don’t want to see a therapist (which provides the necessary CBTs in order to treat the stigma) or attend peer support groups (which provide empowerment) because of stigma itself?
1. How can I take the therapist out of the office?
This can protect the user’s privacy so they are more willing to work on their cognitive distortions.
2. How can I bring people together and connect them?
This helps empower people — “you are not alone”.
Help people suffering from stigma to overcome the low self-esteem, self efficacy, confidence in one’s future as a result of self-stigma.
Revisiting my concept statement, I listed out the solutions to each aspect I wanted to deliver in my service.
1. Chatbot – takes therapist out of the office, works through CBT methods and helps with overcoming internalized stigma
2. CBT journal – a thoughtful approach to processing distorted thoughts
3. Peer support groups – service and resource that brings together people affected by a similar concern so they can explore solutions to overcome shared challenges and feel supported by others who have had similar experiences and who may better understand each other’s situation
In my previous concept development, I had prioritized the chatbot as the centerpiece of the project. After some more research, I realized that peer support groups had a huge impact on people — not only do people come together based on similar hardships, adversities and challenges in life, they mutually support and give encouragement to one another as they move through similar life experiences. The opportunity to build new relationships and strengthen social support networks helps reduce isolation and feelings of loneliness.
As a result, I decided that an online peer support service would be an ideal starting point as a solution to the problems I want to tackle.
06. Making a peer support group
In WHO’s guide to making peer support groups, some steps to making a peer support group are as follows.
1. Identify a common purpose or need
2. Facilitators lead and facilitate discussions in a group and take responsibility for the development and functioning of the group
3. Code of ethics — includes keeping confidentiality, recognizing that thoughts and feelings are not right or wrong, showing acceptance, etc.
4. Sharing stories — members are not obligated to share their stories, but encouraged. As always, confidentiality is a high priority.
5. Identifying common experiences — identify the most common experiences of the group so that people feel connected on various levels with each other
There are barriers to attending peer support groups, which WHO addresses:
- mental health stigma
- lack of trust that it will be a safe space where they can talk freely
- too burned out to venture out to another meeting
- nervous about what might happen
In order to address these challenges, I decided that I would try building an online peer support group. This protects a user’s privacy because users can remain anonymous, and doesn’t require the same time and effort it takes to attend an in-person peer support group.
07. Addressing scope and limitations
Online peer support groups are not for everyone. Some people prefer in-person communication.
This project does not help solve mental illnesses. It does not replace a trained medical professional.
- easy to access
- provides a safe space to talk
- connects people based on similar experiences and challenges with the goal of empowerment and reducing stigma
- reduces sense of isolation
- helps work through cognitive distortions associated with stigma
09. Role Prototypes
My project, currently called You Are Not Alone (YANA), is a service that combines a peer support group with CBT methods. The user signs up to be a member or a group facilitator. After signing up, the user is able to download the mobile app, which has these functions:
- Moodbot the chatbot: helps you identify cognitive distortions in real-time.
- Messages screen: Moodbot, group chat, or individual peer chat conversations.
- Journal entries: Write a thoughtful journal entry about your thoughts. The process takes you through identifying cognitive distortions.
- Plant friend: over time, you nurture a plant in the app through your mental health journey. Each time you accomplish a mood check-in with Moodbot, or write a journal entry, or participate in a peer support group chat, you gain items that help your plant flourish.
- Insights and trends: Check and see what moods you feel most often and why.
- Friends: Visit peers’ profiles to see their plants.
- User profile: Displays your current plant and a summary timeline of your journey in the app.
The sign-up process is lengthy and requires the user to answer thoughtfully. The more detailed the answer, the better idea the service would have of the person, and how to better match them with others in a peer support group. The personality questions are currently taken from Greet, a precedent I looked at that matches people together for deep and meaningful conversations. I will have to consider how to make my own personality questions.
10. Look and Feel Prototypes