Mental Health Technologies
Designing for Accessibility and Inclusivity
Supervised by Dr. Joanna McGrenere.
Computer Science, eDapt Lab
University of British Columbia
September 2019 - present
My PhD thesis explores the accessibility of mental health technologies with special emphasis on the intersection of stigma and non-Western cultures of university students. This page highlights the details of two projects, both of which are included in my thesis proposal. My roles include leading this research and advising 3 undergrad research assistants. This year, I am honored to present my work at the CHI 2023 Doctoral Consortium.
Background and Goals
Cultural psychology and counseling guidelines have routinely shown that an individual’s cultural background shapes how they think about mental health. This can be complicated by the fact that much of what is known of mental health is culturally laden towards Western understanding and practice and can privilege certain dominant groups (e.g., people who identify with Euro-centric, patriarchal, or middle to upper socio-economic values). Yet, surprisingly, there have been limited considerations for users that do not fall under the WEIRD paradigm in HCI mental health studies, creating barriers for adoption and entry for those who may need help the most.
The following two studies highlight ways to explicitly and thoughtfully bring in attitudes and behaviors of university students from non-dominant groups to inform a more inclusive and accessible design space for mental wellbeing.
Project 1 Goals
Understand how university students of E. Asian descent in Canada use and perceive digital mental health tools, with particular focus on how their cultural background has shaped that interaction.
Project 2 Goals
Collaborate with students and UBC counselors/administrators to understand and brainstorm designs and ideas to help UBC international students' mental health.
DFP poster that outlines the two studies (Best Poster Award)
Project 1 Methods
Remote semi-structured interviews
Speed Dating: rapidly gather data on participants' perspectives by showing them existing mental health tools
Project 2 Methods
Remote participatory design sessions with 14 students and 5 UBC counselors and administrators (split into 3 sessions)
Collaborative persona development activity
Analysis of participant sketches and transcripts leading to the development of design dimensions (types of support, types of interaction, types of safety)
Development of 4 medium fidelity design mockups with storyboards
Post-session survey to gather perceptions on the mockups and storyboards
Activity Cards for collaborative persona development
To help ground the participatory design sessions and address stigma that may hinder international students from freely talking about mental health, I devised an artifact that would allow us to generate a persona as a group. Informed by previous formative studies, I seeded several behavior and attitude variables in a deck of pptx slides. Participants combined them to form their own individual personas and then came together at the design session to discuss and consolidate them into one persona. Preliminary findings suggest that students felt more comfortable talking about the mental health challenges of the persona rather than talking about their own experiences more directly.
What We Learned
Project 1 Findings
There are cultural factors in how E. Asian students in Canada use mental health technologies due to growing up with significant stigma and not knowing how to talk about mental health. This has led to: barriers to adoption and entry due to a perception that apps assume users have some prior knowledge of mental health and valuing support from peers online through stories and learning to be more confident ("self-advocate") about mental health.
Project 2 Findings
Broadly, we found that international students weigh elements of trust, perceived benefit, and comfort level to determine which types of tools to use: those with features that support self-help (e.g. meditation), social-help (e.g. peer support), and professional help (e.g. Telehealth). Stigma and lack of mental health literacy have led our participants to trust themselves and professionals the most.
Design Dimensions: Storyboards and Mockups
After the participatory design sessions, I analyzed the data to develop design dimensions that can address the needs and challenges of our participants. We then iteratively created four mockups of designs that span this design space. We embedded the mockups in their own storyboards to communicate how they can be used. To evaluate their impact, we sent our participants a survey with these storyboards to gather data on their attitudes and perceived usefulness.
Storyboards with medium fidelity mockups of 4 different designs. As of 2022, I am pursuing Storyboard #3, The Digital Human Library to prototype and evaluate with users. To see a higher quality version of the storyboards, please click on this LINK.
Project 1 Impact
The write-up of this study has been accepted at CHI 2022, a top tier HCI conference. Reviews are positive, applauding the inclusivity of a very important and growing problem facing minorities today.
Project 2 Impact
After concluding this project, I have received immense interest from the UBC community, and we have been discussing ways to apply ideas and designs more concretely with students. Study participants have also reached out to express their appreciation for being considerate of their stigma and comfort.
This project was filled with new and exciting learning opportunities.
Taking on projects as a lead researcher
Advising undergrad research assistants on Design Thinking and UCD approaches
Networking with different stakeholders
UBC counselors, and department & campus advisors
Other grad students at the UBC HCI research clusters (DFP, MUX)
A lot of effort and time was spent developing ethical and considerate ways to minimize discomfort, hence many iterations of the Activity Cards
Doing everything remotely! Not ideal for participatory design.
One limitation was that even though the Activity Cards did successfully minimize discomfort, the personas were largely reflected on in an impersonal way. This resulted in insights that were not as deep as I would have liked. However, it is a tradeoff I am willing to take.