How to Design for Mental Illness (Pt.1)

The title of this post is more of a question.

How does one design for mental illness, and its dark siblings, depression, addiction, and grief?

To attempt to help answer how, I’ve offered my experience and skills as a designer, educator, and project leader to help develop a Wellness Sanctuary at Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church.

Here is part of the process we’ve been going through since last October:


1. Define What The Church Represents to Itself, the Congregation and the Community
We held an archetype workshop defining Red Clay as having a Caretaker / Outlaw archetype. This enabled us to discern a tone for communication channels and focus on four key themes for our work in general below :

  • Impactful reintroduction to the neighborhood
  • Developing new worshiping communities
  • Creating a sanctuary for those with mental illness, addiction, etc.
  • Establishing a welcoming campus


2. We Organized Interested Parties under the areas they felt called to, assigning a team lead to each .


3. We Gathered Broader Groups of Those with Experience and Insight
The pastors gathered congregation members with personal experiences ranging from divorce to depression to a wide variety of addiction problems, and openly discussed possible ways to support people who suffer in the future. Some of the areas they potentially were deeply committed to include:
Category 1: Internal (easily started by church volunteers)

  1. Cancer support group
  2. Divorce support group
  3. Addiction support group
  4. Parkinson’s support Group
  5. First Aid for Overdose Intervention
  6. Mental health support group
  7. Wellness / yoga / dietary support center

Category 2: External (requires partnership with outsider enterprise / facility)

  1. Partner with private psychologists allowing office hours at Red Clay
  2. Partner with Christiana Hospital for a Behavioral Health branch office at Red Clay
  3. Partner with University of Delaware Public Health and Psychology Internship program
  4. Partnership with N.A.M.I. or Meadowood Detox
  5. Partnership with VA Hospital and or Strong Bonds


4. Narrowed Down Ideas
We gathered again as group and assigned points to the above ideas. Each post-it note represented one point. Those ideas that were not assigned any points by the group were shelved, at least for now.

Wellness Sanctuary Affinity

I tallied the voting and reached out to those unable to attend and spoke with 3 people directly on the phone for feedback.

Below are the results, the numbers after the topics are the scores. Every participant had three points to distribute in both categories mentioned above, totaling six points to use. My only rule was that you couldn’t use all three points on one topic. This was to prevent any landslides and potentially emotional voting. Here’s the results:

  1. General Mental Illness (Depression, Suicide, Family Issues) Support Group: 10 points
  2. Wellness, Yoga, and Dietary Support Center: 10 points
  3. Private Psychologist Partnerships: 8 points
  4. Partnership with Christiana Hospital: 7 points
  5. VA Hospital / Strong Bonds Partnership: 3 points
  6. General Addiction Support Group: 3 points
  7. Partnership with NAMI: 2 points
  8. University of Delaware Intern Partnership: 2 points
  9. Cancer Support Group: 2 points


5. Reach Out to Those with Professional Experience and Connections
Red Clay Creek is a very inclusive church with devoted professionals and volunteers from all backgrounds. Over the last couple of weeks I have spoken to a small eclectic group of people who are offering their professional and government connections. Next steps are to reconvene with a civic leader and a volunteer psychologist from within the church. This will be a general meeting with one agenda: How should we best integrate the areas our congregation is concerned about within the current Red Clay facility?

Next I’d like to explore copy, graphics and color for the distressed and mentally ill.



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