NAMI Resource App
An application that helps people seeking help for themselves or others to find mental health resources anytime, anywhere
Fast and easy access to resources
The Georgia chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness tasked us to design a mobile application that people could use to find mental health resources whenever and wherever they need it.
We informed our design by researching the various types of resources people need access to, the process of searching for them, and appropriate design and information architecture to make the process of finding help as quick and easy as possible.
Project Roles |
Research & Design Collaborative
Research Lead (me):
Developed all research methods; submitted IRB protocol; drafted all study materials including interview and focus group guides; conducted literature review and resource repository evaluations; led interviews and moderated focus group; analyzed data; presented research results
Design Lead (Kunal Dhodapkar):
Conducted heuristic evaluations of other mental health applications; categorized resources on NAMI-GA website; created all wireframes for initial design; assisted with data analysis; presented designs
By implementing both bottom-up and top-down research approach to understand the needs of the organization and potential users as well as the best practices of other mental health resource repositories, we were able to design and evaluate an application for finding resources and identify areas for improvement.
Background | Increasing accessibility to mental health resources
"You're so overwhelmed by so much information in different places. You found something here and something there, but you need it all kind of put in one place."
- Associate Director, NAMI-GA
People seeking mental health resources for themselves or others can have difficulty finding and navigating resources that address their needs. Oftentimes, they are unsure of who to talk to and can struggle to find help within an accessible distance and price range. This can result in a lack of proper guidance and support to navigate their journey to recovery when they need them most.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public about mental illness and providing support to individuals with mental health needs. While NAMI can provide resources through its helpline and printed materials, the helpline is only manned during office hours and their printed resources are costly and cumbersome to update with current information.
The NAMI Georgia chapter (NAMI-GA) expressed a need to provide resources to people seeking help at any time and place throughout the state and tasked us with designing and app for them.
NAMI brochures and pamphlets provide a starting point for finding resources, but a comprehensive digital source could increase accessibility and reduce costs.
Phase I | Defining problem space, user needs, and best practices for resource repository
Our first step was to orient ourselves with the context of mental health crisis response, navigation and referral of resources, and the barriers to finding help.
Our first research activities were aimed at understanding the problem space and NAMI's goals. However because there are already other websites and apps for supporting mental health, we didn't need to reinvent the wheel. I decided to take a bottom-up and top-down research approach in which we would identify design requirements directly from our stakeholders and potential users but also apply effective design and information architecture found in other resource repositories.
Why: To learn about methods used to design and evaluate mobile mental health (mHealth), the challenges that users may face and how technology can navigate them, and good design practices for such apps.
How: I identified 27 empirical articles for our database and reviewed them on the basis of their methodology, results, and design recommendations. I then reported our findings in a comprehensive summary of design considerations.
Stakeholder Interview (n = 4)
Why: Having an in-depth conversation with our primary stakeholders, NAMI-GA, was imperative for us to understand and define our problem statement, target users, and project goal.
How: 1-hour semi-structured interview with NAMI-GA staff directed at characterizing the individuals who sought help from the organization, their process for providing resources, and goals for a mobile resource tool.
Resource Repository Categorization
Why: To identify best practices for resource organization and presentation that enable quick and efficient navigation so that the most effective methods for categorizing and distributing content could be applied to our design.
How: I evaluated 18 websites and apps. I recorded the main sections and subsections of each repository, the content they contained, and any aspects of the organization and navigation that helped or hindered finding resources.
Mapping out mental health resource repositories. The most effective repositories organized content into three main categories: Information, Resources, and Involvement.
Phase II | Implement design requirements in low-fidelity wireframes
After translating our research findings into implications, we used them to guide the construction of wireframes that could be used to evaluate our design.
Based on our research activities we were able to identify several best practices for organizing and presenting mental health resources and information. These resulted in the selection of seven sections and features for our application:
Phase III | Understand how potential users access resources and evaluate our initial design
We conducted a focus group to determine how target users characterize mental health resources and the process of finding them, in addition to getting their feedback on our design.
Many of the studies in my literature review used focus groups to discuss their experiences with mental health and to evaluate designs. I decided to follow suit. Initially I planned to hold a focus group before we began designing, but because of a prolonged IRB approval process, we had to combine the discussion and evaluation into a single session after creating our initial design.
Focus Group Participants
Even though the IRB approved our focus group the day before Thanksgiving and a week before we would have to run it, I was able to recruit a really well-rounded set of participants that provided a variety of unique perspectives.
Focus Group Part I: How do people characterize and navigate mental health resources?
During the first half of the focus group, I led a discussion on what resources people consider when seeking help, the situations in which they might do so, and the circumstances that influence the search process. I provided participants with a booklet with discussion questions in it so that they could write down their thoughts without being influenced by others in the group and have their voices heard if they didn't get a chance to share.
Left: Participants wrote down their answers to discussion questions in personal booklets before sharing with the group so that their thoughts could be documented and unbiased by others.
Right: I wrote participants' responses on a board to generate a comprehensive list of resources and considerations that everyone could refer to throughout the discussion.
Focus Group Part II: Design evaluation
The second goal of the focus group was to elicit feedback on our designs to not only gather general impressions and preferences, but also helped illustrate how one might use such a tool. For this segment I placed large print-outs of our wireframes along a wall and invited participants to evaluate one screen at a time with dot-voting and sticky notes. Green and red stickers were used to indicate features the liked and didn't like, while sticky notes were used to add more detailed comments or suggestions. I also followed up with particular questions about each screen and their preferences.
Participants used red and green dots and post-it notes to evaluate and provide feedback on each wireframe of our design.
Focus Group Findings
Participants provided us with an extensive list of resources that ranged in the level of escalation they addressed, from passive support to crisis response. While many of the resources mentioned included behavioral health systems, therapists, and medical treatment, we also learned that support for mental health could also include financial, legal, and housing assistance. However many people seeking these resources have difficulty accessing them due to financial and transportation constraints, long wait times, language barriers, and a general lack of understanding of what was happening and how to help.
While the information from the discussion can be used to iterate in future designs, our participants were able to provide a lot of valuable input on our initial wireframes. The designs were generally well-received and it was helpful just to see how they interacted with and navigated them. The dot-voting activity yielded a lot of data on their design preferences, summarized below:
Resources encompass more than just those for mental health and a lot of factors and obstacles influence how people find the right help for them.
Phase IV | Report Findings
The final phase of this project was to present our research, designs, and recommendations to our stakeholders at NAMI-GA.
We shared our outcomes with NAMI directors and affiliates, as well as local law enforcement officers. It gave us an opportunity not only to show our process and product, but also to get even more feedback that could be translated in future designs. Overall it was very positively received and the organization was very excited to move forward with the designs we had presented.
Obligatory mid-sentence capture from our presentation.
This project turned out to be a great learning experience for me. I got to work with a local organization and design for a very specific population with unique needs and limitations. I also got to exercise some new design concepts and research methods which taught me about the nuances of information architecture and how to successfully pull off a focus group. Overall it was rewarding to know that the work I did on this project would inform the next phase of design and development of a solution that will actually make an impact and help people find the assistance they need.