A behind-the-scenes peek into my major project proposal
The story so far
I have to admit, the process of finding and distilling a major project proposal has been a bit daunting. Being physically away from LCC and missing out on group activities, I constantly felt out of depth and like I wasn’t on the right track. However, I tried to shift my perspective on the topic and thankfully Vuslat Foundation helped do that for me. As mentioned in my previous blog, the co-design sessions helped me formulate my thoughts a lot. Discussions helped me realise how important the repercussions of the pandemic really are and will be, and maybe it would be naive to conduct a project in isolation (pun intended) of the COVID-19 pandemic.
My learnings directed me towards the following paths:
- Exploring the significance of generous listening, and consequently how this also ties into the idea of having authentic conversations. I am pleased to understand and relate back to the WoW module and how our tutor Veron helped us understand the value of authentic dialogue through our personal experience.
- Understanding the impact of the pandemic on our lives, and how this would feed into the new normal we are all steadily moving towards.
- Since listening is so intricately intertwined with wellbeing, this led me to reach the possibility of how mental health could be explored using the previously mentioned two lenses.
My personal motivation/context
Ever since the pandemic changed our lives in 2020, I have felt a rollercoaster of emotions ranging from sadness, uncertainty, fear, anxiety to even hyper-productivity. Recently, I realised that this feeling has a term titled languishing (New York Times, 2020) which explains how we feel stagnant and non-flourishing in our current state of affairs. Coupled with this, the last few months have been difficult with the second wave in India. I’ve been surrounded by scandalous news headlines, rising cases, bereavement of loved ones, and all-around devastation. In the face of this, informal conversations with other young adults (aged 18–25) made me realise that the pandemic has given way to mental health concerns, small and large.
I am passionate to contribute with my research and work as a service designer, and I believe that this could be an opportune moment for me to do so.
I spent the next few weeks exploring the topic at hand and trying to understand the intersection of generous listening, mental health, India and the pandemic. This was done bearing in mind young adults as this was the specific demographic Vuslat Foundation was interested in targeting. Furthermore, I was keen on looking at the situation in India for two main reasons:
- It was improbable logistically for me to be present in the UK during the main primary research duration (June to August) and so it would be wise to tap into the demographic I had easy access to.
- I spoke to Merve, director of Vuslat Foundation for her opinion on the same. She happily informed me that they were currently in the process of following leads in India to create a valuable network of partners in India, including Ashoka University. She encouraged me to benefit from this and pursue my project here to understand different cultures.
I reflected on my learnings from the co-design sessions and secondary research to better narrow down my research question.
I also conducted an informal interview with a Life Coach and Buddhist spiritual leader as both designations connote the understanding of wellbeing, support and mental health help. The conversation helped me understand how powerful the feeling of being heard is, but also realising that those that need help want to hear empathy, compassion and helpful conversations too. Additionally, those in the help industry are acknowledging that the future presents a huge challenge due to the uncertainty, stress, anxiety and grief the last year has given people. The need of the hour is for people to come together and help one another: both formally and informally.
Scoping the problem
As mentioned previously, my goal was to now understand the intersection of mental health, youth in India and the COVID-19 pandemic. Scoping this territory was quite challenging since this was a very dynamic and complicated problem involving many different criteria. For example, to understand COVID-19 and India I realised that the large population and mutated stronger viruses in the second wave led to crumbling healthcare infrastructure and therefore a medical crisis. As Ghosh et al. (2020) have mentioned, this led to mental health volatility due to many factors such as unemployment, socio-economic depravity, family dynamics and obviously isolation. I realised that this is a huge impending problem in case there were to be the third wave in India which has been estimated and expected within the next year. To make this challenge even more complicated, my research showed that many different reasons contribute to this mental health decline. As Pfefferbaum & North (2020) studied, there are many contributors to individual and collective well-being which have been shaken during this pandemic. Perhaps a way for us to move forward would be collaborative help support and finding comfort in one another (Usher, Durkin & Bhullar, 2020). Moving forward to understand the intersection of COVID-19, mental health and India; it is dictated that 56% of young adults in India suffer from depression and anxiety (Jain, 2021). With respondents conveying that they experience different levels of stress and depressive symptoms, it is quite safe to assume that the documentation and study of second wave implications would be worse. Whilst coping with this problem made me feel quite dejected and cynical, I realised that there may be an opportunity for me to apply the principles of Vuslat Foundation’s generous listening. As therapeutic practices traditionally rely on listening and active dialogue, perhaps now could also be a time to deploy listening as a tool and solution to express our emotions to cope with the pandemic.
Furthermore, the detrimental effects of the pandemic have been more susceptible to young adults due to ongoing stresses being amplified and exacerbated due to the fear and uncertainty that we’re all living with (Usher et al., 2020). This disproportionately affected the disadvantaged and also furthermore in developing nations (Tsamakis et al., 2021). Particularly in India, a report has studied three states- it analyses the challenges faced by young adults especially during these trying times. It helped me understand that there is also an overlying amount of stigma attached to mental health and perhaps this would also be a problem for my project to tackle (Population Foundation of India, 2020). Since something as significant as mental health is still treated as a taboo in India, this would be a good opportunity for us to address these issues. As apparently COVID-19 has made it easier for us to express our emotions and talk to one another (Zuberbuhler, 2021). In tandem with WHO’s response to mental health preparedness (2021), recommendations are quite pertinent as there needs to be a whole-of-society approach to really protect and care for the mental health of all our citizens. Therefore, I am quite enthusiastic and determined to look for ways in which as a service designer, I can help scaffold a way to build mental health services and resilience for our future.
From an ethical consideration, I realise that this project shall require utmost sensitivity, privacy and empathy on my part. While this is a tricky place to be, I am determined to hone my skills of compassion as a designer. Furthermore, from an autoethnographic point of view, my personal experiences of this time shall aid me.
The project would follow a triangulation method, coupled with participatory design principles. This implies that my initial secondary research, primary research and expert interviews will inform the co-designing workshops that will follow in the later stages of the project. I am eager to apply my lessons from previous modules, especially the Collaborative Project. I learned how to manoeuvre sensitive topics like inequality with those affected, manage stakeholder expectations and also co-design.
While I am to follow the Double Diamond method, I am particularly interested in exploring the adapted version presented to us during the Service Design Challenge Brief. The acknowledgement of empathy as a key step in the process truly resonated with me. Creating the major project proposal has given me much clarity as I have been encouraged to really distil the idea and also conduct preliminary research to support my project. I truly feel like preparing a proposal for my Techne application helped me understand the significance and benefit of a detailed project proposal, but here I was surprised to be able to apply the skills I have honed during this MA programme. Indeed, this project is bound to be a reflection of all that I have learned in the past 8 months and how judicially I may apply them.
The journey has just begun. While I am excited and enthusiastic to pursue a project close to my heart, I am also aware of the challenges that lie ahead of me. I will have to work hard, stay determined, keep my chin up and be optimistic. Perhaps the greatest lesson of all for me would be to listen to the voices of all that I approach and amplify them in the right way.
Ghosh, A., Nundy, S., & Mallick, T. K. (2020). How India is dealing with COVID-19 pandemic. Sensors International, 1, 100021.
Jain, V. (2020). COVID-19 And Depression | Forbes India. Retrieved 5 June 2021, from https://www.forbesindia.com/article/brand-connect/covid19-and-depression/67295/1
New York Times. (2020). There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing. Retrieved 1 June 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/19/well/mind/covid-mental-health-languishing.html
Pfefferbaum, B., & North, C. S. (2020). Mental health and the Covid-19 pandemic. New England Journal of Medicine, 383(6), 510–512.
Population Foundation of India. (2020). Impact of COVID-19 on young people: Rapid assessment in three states. Retrieved from https://populationfoundation.in/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Rapid-Assessment_Report_Youth_Survey_Covid.pdf
Tsamakis, K., Tsiptsios, D., Ouranidis, A., Mueller, C., Schizas, D., Terniotis, C. … Rizos, E. (2021). COVID‑19 and its consequences on mental health (Review). Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine, 21, 244. https://doi.org/10.3892/etm.2021.9675
Usher, K., Durkin, J., & Bhullar, N. (2020). The COVID-19 pandemic and mental health impacts. International journal of mental health nursing, 29(3), 315–318. https://doi.org/10.1111/inm.12726
Vuslat Foundation., 2020. Listening Awakens Our Humanity- Invitation Report.
World Health Organisation. (2021). Mental health preparedness and response for the COVID-19 pandemic: Report by the Director-General. Retrieved from https://apps.who.int/gb/ebwha/pdf_files/EB148/B148_20-en.pdf
WHO. (2020). COVID-19 Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) global research and innovation forum : towards a research roadmap. Retrieved from https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/3859866?ln=en
Zuberbuhler, J. (2021). COVID-19 Has Made It Easier to Talk About Mental Health. Retrieved 5 June 2021, from https://about.kaiserpermanente.org/total-health/health-topics/covid-19-has-made-it-easier-to-talk-about-mental-health1