Design for Mental Illness

Masters of Industrial Design at Rhode Island School of Design

Excerpts of work from my first graduate design studio on discursive and experimental design

Photo from final review, showing the Anxiety Slot Machine (2017)

Photo from final review, showing the Anxiety Slot Machine (2017)


I came to RISD to create a conversation, to highlight a subject that I think is ignored and to normalize discussion about a stigmatized topic. That topic is mental illness. Throughout the semester, I have created artifacts that build radical empathy between the user and the mentally ill. Through education and understanding, I hope to bridge the divide and de-stigmatize mental illness using design.


Anxiety Chest Compression Suit

In a few hours, I quickly built my first prototype in an attempt to recreate the chest pain and pressure some people experience as a symptom of anxiety, depression or panic attack.


Anxiety Slot Machine

We all get stressed out. We all feel sad now and again. But for a small amount of the population, those feelings can be far more debilitating than they look or sound, especially for those who suffer from anxiety disorders or mood disorders. It can range from post traumatic stress disorder to generalized anxiety disorder or even panic attack disorder. These reactions can seem completely out of scale, particularly in the case of a panic attack.  The video above will run through a few scenarios.


User Testing

I had several classmates and professors try on the suit (both those who had experienced mental illness before and those who had not) to get their feedback. Most felt uncomfortable and wanted to get it off as soon as possible.


Panic Attack Operation Game

Based on what trigger the machine lands on, certain LEDs light up, signaling symptoms, such as heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, excessive sweating, dizziness, and insomnia. Through this interactive anxiety slot machine, I hope to teach users what a normal level anxiety is and what a person with an anxiety disorder suffers from. My second goal is to physicalize mental illness for people who have never experienced it. Anxiety is not simply something in your head. It can be seriously debilitating. And third, I hope that people will feel more comfortable in talking about anxiety, perhaps even seek out help or try to help a friend in need.

Arduino Set Up for Anxiety Slot Machine

Arduino Set Up for Anxiety Slot Machine

Partial program to run Anxiety Slot Machine

Partial program to run Anxiety Slot Machine

Moving Forward

Through my research, I have connected with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Rhode Island Chapter. The executive director, Cindy Elder, and I have plans to present my work either through a workshop or a presentation at the upcoming NAMI Rhode Island Conference and at the upcoming nationwide conference.