An ode to depression

seuss-bw

I came across this reddit thread, Write a suicide note in a Dr. Seuss like fashion. The most upvoted post is a dark yet touching poem written by user, allbunsglazing. Like many commentators, I was really moved when I read this…somehow it’s an incredibly honest account of depression.

I cannot take credit for any of the above text allbunsglazing so carefully crafted. I did however crop his original work and ended it on an earlier note, before it reached the detail about the suicide plan. Perhaps it’s me being optimistic, but I felt that in itself, it’s the words above that resonated with me the most.

 

Mental Health Tetris

tetris_cop

In brief: Visual experimentation of mental health concepts using Tetris blocks.

I have been thinking about ways to represent various concepts in mental health using basic shapes. I started to play around with squares to see what I could come up with, but ran out of creative juice quickly. Recently, I stumbled upon the work of Graphic Patrick who created some clever posters about mental health terms which inspired me to return to my square experiment. What I came up with were Tetris-inspired visuals, as you can see above and below.

I was a big fan of Lego and Tetris when I was a kid, so I’m not surprised that my experiment led me to create some visual concepts inspired the very building blocks that kept me creative and busy during my childhood. I received a Game Boy for my birthday (way back when it was first released) and was absolutely thrilled that it came with my very first portable video game: Tetris. Really, this was the best tech toy a kid my age could get for her birthday in the early 90s <<YouTube video: 3mins of pure Tetris nostalgia here>>

Tetris aside, I decided to experiment to see if the notion of adding/removing building blocks (perhaps representing positive and negative events/stressors?) could help describe some topics in mental health. My intent here is to find alternative/complementary ways to explain complex mental health issues. I realize Tetris may not be the best analogy, as I don’t consider mental health a “game” of sorts nor something you can really “win” or “lose” at. But for the sake of trying something different, I selected a few issues that I thought would be worth exploring. And yes, this is an exploration that aims to challenge me and my own understandings of mental health and hopefully encourage others to think differently too. Using Tetris as a back drop is meant to describe terms in a playful and accessible way but is not intended to minimize their seriousness or depth. The decision to position the blocks the way I did here comes from both the way the game is constructed as well as the player experience.

Illustrated are the concepts of recovery, depression, bipolar, ocd, coping, and determinants of mental health. I’d rather not provide an extensive explanation of each image, rather, I’ll let you interpret it for yourself. I’ve included a definition of each term below each diagram for your consideration. As always, feedback and ideas are welcome.

An aside: When I googled “Tetris” and “mental health” to see if there were some existing work in this area, I came across articles referencing an Oxford study suggesting that playing the game could possibly prevent PTSD flashbacks. Some food for thought.

tetris_rec“Recovery is understood as a process in which people living with mental health problems and illnesses are empowered and supported to be actively engaged in their own journey of well-being. The recovery process builds on individual, family, cultural and community strengths and enables people to enjoy a meaningful life in their community while striving to achieve their full potential.” (Toward Recovery & Wellbeing, MHCC)

tetris_dep1

“Depression is a medical illness that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Depression can cause physical symptoms, too.” (Mayo Clinic)

tetris_bp

“Bipolar disorder — sometimes called manic-depressive disorder — is associated with mood swings that range from the lows of depression to the highs of mania. When you become depressed, you may feel sad or hopeless and lose interest or pleasure in most activities. When your mood shifts in the other direction, you may feel euphoric and full of energy. Mood shifts may occur only a few times a year, or as often as several times a day. In some cases, bipolar disorder causes symptoms of depression and mania at the same time.” (Mayo Clinic)

tetris_ocd

“Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions). With obsessive-compulsive disorder, you may realize that your obsessions aren’t reasonable, and you may try to ignore them or stop them. But that only increases your distress and anxiety. Ultimately, you feel driven to perform compulsive acts in an effort to ease your stressful feelings.” (Mayo Clinic)

tetris_cop

“Coping is the process of attempting to manage the demands created by stressful events that are appraised as taxing or exceeding a person’s resources” (Taylor & Stanton)

tetris_det

“Multiple social, psychological, and biological factors determine the level of mental health of a person at any point of time. For example, persistent socio-economic pressures are recognized risks to mental health for individuals and communities. The clearest evidence is associated with indicators of poverty, including low levels of education.” (WHO Fact Sheet)

 

A little mental help: Action cards

superhero-side1

Depression.

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.

 

superheroside2