Illustrating Stories of Everyday Mental Wellness with Young Adults

Janette Ng

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This project challenged how illustration can be used to make mental health information more accessible and engaging for young adults within a New Zealand public health service setting.

Advocates for young adult mental wellbeing are needed now more than ever. Improving mental health literacy and sharing hopeful recovery narratives can lead to better health outcomes for those experiencing mental distress. As visual communicators and storytellers, illustrators are well-equipped to make a meaningful contribution to this space. In previous studies, it has been shown that participating in everyday activities can ease mental wellbeing for individuals in the process of recovery. It suggests that we move between four main modes in life, and that it is important for our mental wellbeing to make sure we have a good balance between all these modes. Janette explored how to visualise this model in ways that would make it more tangible and accessible for young adults.

Specific focus was given to illustrating recovery-focused lived experience stories of mental wellbeing. The project adopted a participatory action research and co-creative approach. Designers for health information, young adults with lived experience of using mental health services, and mental health clinicians were invited to take part in this research and inform a strengths-based inquiry. A collection of illustrated lived experience stories and creative prompts were used to support young adult participants to visualise their own definitions and stories of everyday mental wellness. This creative exploration was used to inform the development of an illustrated ‘guidebook’ (resource) designed to help young adults navigate mental wellbeing challenges.

From a design perspective, this study provides insight into how creative methods can be used to facilitate co-creative projects with young adults. The project proposes that illustration and drawing-based activities can complement traditional therapeutic approaches within mental health services.