For the past few years, I have been asking myself, how do I create empathy and understanding between the neurotypical and the neuro-atypical? Imagine being a child whose parents don’t believe they have serious mental illness, a partner who doesn’t understand why their partner is struggling so much with depression or a friend who questions the seriousness their best friend’s anxiety. Have you ever been in one of those positions, on either side of the equation?
I drew my inspiration for this card deck set from my own personal frustration with the awkwardness and tension that occurs when talking about mental illness. I wanted to design a tool to help people cope with interpersonal difficulties and as a result, improve their lives. It can be really difficult to start a conservation about such a serious subject as mental illness, which is why I designed prompt cards for two different tough questions: What Does It Feel Like? and How Can I Help? The goal in creating these card decks is to find a way for people with mental illness to talk to their friends, family and healthcare providers.
Rather than sending a friend a list of symptoms from WebMD, sending them a visual, like a comic or illustration, makes it easier for them to understand what I’m going through. I was particularly drawn to this zine, Doll Hospital Journal, an art and literature journal on mental health and one artist in particular, Yoyito. I reached out to her and we began collaborating.
Together we chose quotes from people with mental illness that we felt were particularly evocative. Yoyito drew 22 different quotes that expressed what it feels like to have to have an anxiety disorder or a mood disorder. The first deck, the “What Does It Feel Like?” deck, features these illustrations.
The second deck, the “How Can I Help?” deck, is meant to improve communication. Most friends and family of those struggling with mental illness want to help, but they may not know what to do. Sometimes they want to offer advice that will solve the illness right away, but mental illness doesn’t simply go away. Additionally, it is difficult for the person with mental illness to express the help they want or even come up with an idea for what would help. Regularly, it’s the small acts that make the biggest difference: some time alone, a text with a funny video, checking in the next day. After using these cards together, my hope is that the users will learn more about each other and eventually won’t need the cards to communicate.