Is mental health a luxury? – Dissecting mental health preconceptions through co-designing jewelry for mental health needs
This project aims to challenge preconceptions of mental health and attempts to conceptually dissect the popular phrase “mental health is a luxury”. The dissection is grounded on a theoretical background related to the inefficiencies of the health care system, advocacy movements of health care rights, material culture and luxury consumption, in order to conceptualize design strategies for sociocultural change. The conceptualization challenges ideas of luxurious consumption related to the accessibility of mental health care and to jewelry wearing as manifestation of mental health needs. This project attempts to challenge the perception of mental health care as luxury through the invitation of other mental health sufferers into a collaborative co-design space that generates information about their subjective lived experiences and needs, through participatory and empathic design methods.
Jewelry has been selected as a design medium that combines possibilities of self-expression, involvement in co-crafting, similarities to other devices for self-regulation and preconceptions of status. The socioeconomic issues of the accessibility of mental health care reveals inequalities related to social status, and jewelry with its historical connotation as a social status symbol is used in this project as a critical tool to portray and question the correlation between socioeconomic privilege and mental health care. The collaborative process of co-designing and translating real people’s needs into customized jewelry works as an attempt to redefine jewelry as a manifestation of human needs and to cultivate mental health sufferers’ agency and power towards their own health.
The design approach consisted of first-person autobiographical research and participatory and empathic design methods, which supported the design process of the Feelings-Needs-Dreams Workbook, a jewelry making workshop for emotional awareness and the final co-designing of the jewelry. Students of the Linnaeus University in Växjö were invited, involved and selected through an online questionnaire about issues of mental health and invitations for collaboration and co-creation. The participants worked independently for a week with the Feelings-Needs-Dreams workbook in order to identify mental health needs and aesthetic preferences, information which later informed the co-designing choices of the final jewelry pieces.
More than jewelry
I collaborated with five participants and together we identified mental health needs and ideas that we later translated into jewelry pieces. The pieces were designed to express the individuals’ ideas about mental health and their personal needs towards emotional well-being and they resemble structural, functional pieces. The jewelry was made out of copper, with darker oxidized details for contrast, with some of them accompanied by black details in the form of beads. The construction of the final pieces was made by me, with partial help from some participants. The collaborative and co-designing value of the process should not be measured by the participants’ involvement in the actual construction of the pieces but rather focused on the personal stories their pieces are made to tell.
Discussing mental health
The next step of the process would be to share the outcomes of the project with others. We discussed with the participants about the “fate” of the jewelry and, while the initial goal was for them to keep them, we decided to create an exhibition to share the outcomes with the public. The exhibition “Is Mental Health a Luxury?” was decided to be placed in Café Astrakan (University Library, Linnaeus University, Växjö), a place that is visited by many students and offers opportunities for viewing and, possibly, contemplating about the (also students) participants’ experiences regarding mental health. Later, the exhibition traveled to Southern Swedish Design Days (SSDD) in Malmö, which opened windows of opportunity for further exhibition possibilities and for discussing mental health care.