First Hand — Amid a university mental-health crisis, Creative Conscience highlights three student projects inspiring change
If you’ve ever felt incredibly low and isolated as a student, it turns out you’re anything but alone. Reports of an increase in loneliness and depression at universities are at an all-time high. In an extremely worrying UK study of mental health and higher education announced just this week – the largest-ever of its kind – over 87% admitted struggling with feelings of anxiety. So what can be done about it? This was one of the questions raised at the Change Makers: for Mental Health 0.2 event, held by non-profit organisation Creative Conscience last week, as they explored the ways that creativity can become an essential catalyst for positive change. Today, on University Mental Health Day, we share insights from some inspiring students whose projects embody this mission, as they work towards improving the emotional landscape for their peers.
The idea behind the event
Creative Conscience was set up in 2011 by Chrissy Levett, together with a supportive creative community, to inspire, educate and reward emerging creatives – connecting them with initiatives for social good. In the years that Chrissy has been running the Creative Conscience awards, an emerging trend in submitted projects has become hard to ignore: the topic of mental health. “We have seen the amount of projects on the issue of mental health double in around five years,” she said.
The event itself was held at Central Saint Martins, with support from the UAL post grad community. Creative Conscience gathered practitioners from a wide range of backgrounds – including animation and digital-product design to youth work. In an afternoon of shared insights, experiences and projects, it became clear that creative action can be instrumental in improving mental wellbeing, whether that’s altering perceptions and assumptions, to creating supportive communities and inspiring lasting impact.
“We have seen the amount of projects on the issue of mental health double in around five years.” – Chrissy Levett
In a showcase of university projects, we got to know student Jacob Ham and recent grads Rosa Kimosa and Sara Lopez – all of whom have attracted industry attention for their work in the mental-health space. As part of a panel discussion, they shared the details of their work and their thoughts on the ways that it both aided their own mental wellbeing, as well as others around them.
Sara Lopez's Mindnosis toolkit
Sara Lopez’s service-design solution, Mindnosis
Central Saint Martins grad and multidisciplinary designer Sara Lopez attracted a gold award from Creative Conscience for her project, Mindnosis. While in the final year of her MA in industrial design, she drew on skills in product and service design to create a “toolkit to find out more about what you’re feeling”.
As with most of the work presented on the day, the project was created out of her own need: “It came from a personal experience with mental-health issues,” she reflects, adding that what she really wanted was reliable information on anxiety and depression, to better understand what she was going through.
The Mindnosis toolkit
The outcome is a kit that serves as a self-assessment system. Though printed cards, users are offered suggested steps and actions that aim to “sustain your wellbeing”. It’s specifically tailored with those who are reluctant to take the first step in mind, aiming to take away the stigma attached to these issues.
Having attracted press from publications including Dezeen and Metro, and positive feedback from others who related to her experience and requests for collaborations, Sara is continuing to grow the project. But she admits that the journey has not been without its difficulties, “At the start, I remember emailing loads of people and none of them getting back, but I realised it was because I didn’t yet have anything yet.”
This became a lesson in the importance of having something to show for your ideas. Sara advises anyone running a similar project to stay motivated through the process, and highlights the benefits of collaborating with others and help you through the development process.
Aware Online, an online platform by Rosa Kimosa
Rosa Kimosa’s online platform, Aware Online
A Ravensbourne grad and now social media editor for Dazed, Rosa created mental-health platform Aware Online last year. A submissions-based digital safe space, Rosa describes it as somewhere “people can come online and talk about mental health”.
Similarly to Rosa, Sara came up with the idea through her own experiences. “I started it because it was something I needed,” she shares. “I was going through a lot of emotions, and couldn’t find a space online to express myself, or talk to people who were going through the same issues. So I thought, why not create one?”
The project extended to events, including an exhibition, as well a meet-up within her university, bringing together 30 people to get them talking. “I was very sceptical at first,” she admits. “I know it’s not something everyone’s comfortable speaking about.” But the outcome couldn’t have been further from her concerns; “I shared my own story first, and after fifteen minutes, everyone was expressing themselves.”
“I was going through a lot of emotions and couldn’t find a space online to express myself... So I thought, why not create one?”
After submitting a film of the event to Creative Conscience, Rosa saw it resonate as she picked up a bronze award, before also earning the Ravensbourne’s advocacy award and a commendation from the Mayor of London. “It gave me so much motivation to keep going,” she shares. “It meant that I wasn’t doing it for no reason – there were other people who needed it and supported it, too.”
Rosa is now continuing the project, thanks to financial support and incubation provided by Ravensbourne, and she advises anyone wanting to do something similar to go for it. “Just do it. Whatever hesitations or doubts you have, put them aside – even if you just do one thing. With projects for social good, once it’s out there you’ll begin to understand that it’s much bigger than you.”
Jacob’s speculative rebrand of Anxiety UK
Jacob Ham’s rebrand of Anxiety UK
Currently in his third year of a graphics degree at New College Durham, last year Jacob began a project that he says changed his life. As a fellow sufferer of mental health-related issues, Jacob chose to create a speculative rebrand for charity Anxiety UK, and in the process, found himself more able to open up about his own thoughts and feelings.
Jacob’s approach went far beyond a well-thought through logo design and identity; “I found myself able to really push myself, as it was something I was really passionate about.” It was this drive that led him to develop the concept for an app in addition, allowing users to share what’s on their mind while connecting and relating to others.
As a result, the project gained a bronze award from Creative Conscience, and became a semifinalist for Adobe Awards in the social impact category, in turn attracting industry attention and contacts.
“If you’re going through something similar, remember that you are not alone. It does get better; there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.”
But Jacob also recognises the challenges of working with such a complex topic. During the Creative Conscience panel, Jacob’s main piece of advice to creatives wanting to create change in this field was to “research correctly and make sure the people you’re doing it for are the people who would really benefit from it. User-test it and get opinions… Because if it goes wrong it can impact on someone else’s life.”
In a post on his Medium page, Jacob talks about the project as something of a milestone in both his personal development and as a creative; “This project taught me so much. Not only about mental health, feeling good about myself, trying to balance work and life, but also [how to treat] others.” And he continues, “Being open about mental health makes the situation easier – it opens doors to getting help. Trust me, if you’re going through something similar, remember that you are not alone. It does get better; there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.”
The Anxiety UK logo before and after Jacob’s speculative rebrand
Finally, Chrissy rounded up the panel with some of her own thoughts on creative projects of this nature, particularly from students. “We now have data proving that when young people work on purpose-driven projects, they [develop] a better sense of self-esteem and place in the world,” she says. “It actually helps with their own mental health and wellbeing. That’s why we’re so passionate about building this into our education system. It should be part of what we’re teaching. So look for what you care about, what matters to you.”
Lecture in Progress served as a media partner for Creative Conscience’s ‘Change Makers: for Mental Health 0.2’ event, held at Central Saint Martins, UAL, on March 1. The afternoon included talks from The Design Museum, animation studio Working Progress, Trylife Creator Paul Irwin and documentary filmmaker Tessa Blencowe.