A little mental help: Action cards



I know many who have and continue to experience it on a day to day basis. Given my training and work on mental health initiatives, I’ve had people approach me to ask about recommended resources on depression (websites, trusted literature, etc.) and tools that inspire motivation and action. And generally speaking, there are some great, evidence-based self-help resources out there:

While there isn’t a shortage of accessible and reliable content, it seems that the bulk of existing resources tend to be extremely text-heavy, look and feel somewhat dated, and come across as a bit dry, drab and ‘clinical’ in nature (e.g., included images are limited to charts and surveys or photo stock images like this). This is not to criticize any particular resource, including the ones I’ve mentioned. Rather, it’s more of a commentary on what I’ve seen and would expect to receive from my own health care practitioner.

To me, managing depression is about bettering one’s own mental health with the support of trusted friends/family and professionals. At the same time, I believe that this process shouldn’t have to feel like undergoing an academic or clinical exercise. It can be daunting enough to acknowledge the need for change, to seek out supports and embark on a treatment plan. Doing so within a clinical context while supporting yourself with dense and somewhat sterile resources probably doesn’t help minimize the overwhelming and uncomfortable feelings that can arise. Perhaps this is a common experience among those who go through the medical system to ‘fix a health problem’, but I think that addressing a mental health issue also comes with unique layers of stigma, challenge and complexity.

I have found few tools that are visual, colorful or feel friendly and personalized to my interests. While it’s actually quite exciting to see soft/hardware being developed that can help track mood and behaviour and enable us to interact with mental health issues in new ways, I think that the existing ‘old-school’ resources out there deserve a re-vamp too — in reality, these are the resources that the majority of care professionals continue to use and recommend in practice.

I decided to make some ‘action cards’ that suggest tangible steps one can take to help overcome depressive feelings. These cards are informed by cognitive behavioural therapy approaches to treatment and aim to be quick, ‘on-the-go’ actions that someone can print out, shuffle through, and carry around. They were also designed for someone familiar with CBT concepts and would probably play a more supportive role to someone undergoing treatment. These were created with a personal intent but are shared here if they (or the idea of them) can be helpful to someone else. Inspired by my own deep dive into the world of animation and cartooning, I decided to create a character who would accompany the cards and (hopefully) can appeal to a general audience. My hope was to create something more playful, personable, less ‘institutional’ feeling, and appealing to adults.

At the top, you can see ‘side 1’ of the cards with the “problem” being faced. ‘Side 2’ below offers a practical action response. I welcome your feedback and ideas on how to improve these cards.



Health Promotion in Canada, A History


Earlier this year, I decided to create a graphic in order to map out the history of Health Promotion in Canada — key milestones and movements from the 1970s onward. In many ways, this is a response to the lack of visuals and timelines I’ve found documenting health promotion activities. For a country that is internationally recognized for its leadership in this space, it surprises me that I haven’t found too many sharable graphics on this.

Here’s the full PDF draft: HP History_DRAFT3_AYIP

The timeline is unfinished and still in progress. Nonetheless, it serves as a starting point for documenting key moments for the health promotion movement in Canada. I realize that not everyone will agree with the relative importance of events in the timeline and that there are certain pieces that are missing (and only goes up to 2010), but I welcome your feedback. Please comment below with suggestions on what needs to change, stay or be added.

Below, you can find some of the references I used to populate the timeline. Many thanks to Dr. Suzanne Jackson for sharing her health promotion resources with me so this document could be created!


Health promotion in Canada: 1986 to 2006 by Suzanne F Jackson and Barbara L Riley

Health promotion in Canada – a case study by Health Canada

The Final 3: EMR, Ageing & Community Building

Electronic medical records:

Ageing/Chronic condition:

Community Building:


So I’ve learned that I can get the icons done, but the posting has been slightly delayed. Anyways, I hope you enjoy the final 3 icons. Feedback and thoughts always welcome. This has been a fun exercise and I hope to do it again in the near future 🙂 Just need to be a bit better about my posting schedule!

Icon #20: Empowerment



Empowerment is a tricky word. During my graduate studies, we joked about how empowerment (while it can be quite powerful and important as a concept) gets overused and abused across various contexts, particularly in health promotion and talk around the health system. We often hear about the need to “empower people” to become healthier and happier, for instance. I recall my first year class talking about the need to design an “empowerment bullsh*t scale” to assess how meaningfully this word gets used…Sadly, I think we could agree that more often than not, the scale would probably lean toward the “bullsh*t” end.

In itself, empowerment is a complex concept…and something I had a difficult time iconizing. What I’ve created above could either be a clever play on the “power/on” symbol (with a person in the middle) or just plain confusing. You tell me!

Icons #14-19: Backlog!

My iconathon came to a brief pause last week here on the blog…at least posting-wise. The icon making didn’t stop.

Here is a collection of icons related to the social determinants of health and the conditions needed for health to flourish. These account for the missing days of this iconathon. Enjoy!

#14: Fresh, Healthy Food


#15: Justice


#16: Peace

#17: Income

#18: Housing


#19: Resistance/Unity


Bonus: Education


Icon #10: “Male + Female Condom”



When I was originally trying to create an icon to represent birth control / contraception, I came up with some ideas…none of which I thought really conveyed the concept well: A barrier between egg and sperm, a crossed out fetus (which I quickly realized might be interpreted as referring to an abortion), and then the specific methods themselves (e.g., condoms, Depo, patch, ring, IUD, etc.).

I ended up creating the above icon of a male condom. Condoms are commonly used to represent birth control, barrier methods and contraception. I find that most people will tend to automatically associate the male condom with pregnancy prevention or better yet, safer sex. I decided not to create a female condom icon because it is less well known and in many cases, people just don’t know what the female condom looks like. And then…I started thinking that this is a great reason to create an icon and some visibility for it! So, Voila:



Female condoms can be a very powerful tool for safer sex and best of all, insertion and use is female led. They are a bit unusual looking (people joke that it’s like a large, noisy plastic bag) but in the end, they are protective and a great option for many women. I don’t think I did it much justice as an icon, but I’m not sure how best to visualize it. I placed the inner ring at a tilt to show that it’s moveable and versatile compared to the outer ring. Would love your thoughts on any improvements I can make.

Icon #9: “Social Determinants”



How does one iconize the Social Determinants of Health (SDOH)?

Good question. SDOH is such a massive and complex concept, I’m honestly at a loss here! Let’s start with a definition of SDOH:

The social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age, including the health system. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels. The social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequities – the unfair and avoidable differences in health status seen within and between countries. – WHO

As you can see, there are a lot of upstream factors that SDOH refers to, but illustrating this is no easy task. I thought of the word “upstream” or “pump handle” as potential concepts to play off of, but as a stand alone visual I struggled to find something that clearly conveyed SDOH in a single icon. So, I figure the letters “S-D-O-H” are a starting point. To the average person this may not make too much sense, but the concept in general is not that commonly understood to begin with. What do you think?