The first Glug of 2018 was a little different from previous events, with talks all about mental health, wellbeing and self-care – topics that are really close to our hearts here at Futureheads. We heard from a diverse selection of speakers on their own journeys, projects, insights and experience around emotional wellbeing.
If you’ve not come across Glug before, they are an international movement that brings together creative communities around the world through informal ‘not-working’ and talks from generally awesome people.
Here are some of our top takeaways from the event.
Everyone has mental health
James Routledge from Sanctus gave a really powerful talk about his experiences with mental health. One really interesting point he made was around how coming to terms with his mental health has benefited him. He talked about how he's become more empathetic and has more patience and understanding of others, which was a refreshing perspective. James talked about his early research on mental health via Google. While it explained some of what he was feeling, it was all very ‘doom and gloom’, pointing him to content filled with scary statistics and advice. While it is important to highlight the risks around mental health, James talked about mental health as a spectrum of experiences, both positive and negative, which everyone has. Understanding that mental health is universal is an important part of being proactive with emotional issues.
Both James and Michael Acton Smith, founder of Mind Candy, Calm and Silicon Drinkabout, compared the differences between how we as a society view mental and physical health - people understand that good physical health requires you to train and strengthen your body, and look for injuries or pain proactively. Conversely, many people don't think about mental health until they are experiencing significant issues. However, by talking more openly about mental health, and hearing people's experiences, both good and bad, will help more people understand that everyone has mental health, and help equip people better to manage their emotional health.
Designing for health
Studio Output drew attention to the negative impact that social media platforms can have on mental health, generating feelings of inadequacy and anxiety, especially on visual platforms like Snapchat and Instagram.
The team dedicate time to working on interesting non-commercial design problems and decided to tackle this issue and consider how social platforms could be designed to be more healthy for users' mental health. There's lots of research out there that identifies a clear correlation between mental health issue and social media usage - but what is not so clear is which causes the other. Here are some of the ideas we thought could make a real difference, and you can also check out their concept in more detail here.
- Machine learning algorithms can actually detect signs of depression from a user’s Instagram data. Algorithms that monitor usage patterns and activity are already being used to serve adverts - this technology could be repurposed to monitor users’ health.
- Integrating data from FitBits, and other biometric tracking devices that could be used to monitor for signs of anxiety. Greater insight into what types of content trigger adverse emotional responses could be used to tag types of content to help users identify anything that may be emotionally harmful.
- Helping users to educate themselves on the impact of using their products through intelligent coaching. Facebook, for example, already provides this feature for security and privacy.
- Inner circles that prioritise content from a smaller number of close connections can help users feel more impactful, positive connections online. With the recent announcement on the changes that Facebook is making to their feed, perhaps we'll begin to see the impact of a connections first approach in coming months.
Leadership can be tough
Michael Acton Smith talked about the challenges of leading teams through difficult times and having to make redundancies. This was echoed by James Routledge, who was running a tech startup, as he talked about the pressure to be seen to be doing well, and the compulsion to focus on selling himself and his success at all times. It was only when he made the brave step to publish a blog post about his struggles with his mental health, and he found himself inundated with messages from people who felt the same way. It was at this point he was able to begin forging genuine connections with others in the same position - something he'd not found before.
Last year we sponsored Leading Design, and we were particularly inspired by Cap Watkin's talk about the fears he has as a leader. It seems like leaders are beginning to feel more confident about sharing their experience of mental health publicly, and it plays a vital role in changing the culture around design leadership - and is hopefully something we'll see more and more of in the coming weeks and months.
It was a great evening of inspiring talks - and I think 2018 is definitely going to be the year when conversations about mental health take centre stage. Bring it on!
At Futureheads, we spend a lot of time thinking about how we can support our people with their emotional health, and have introduced new ideas such as a Wellness Week, and Reset Days, and we're always happy to chat, whether you have a new initiative in place you think is worth sharing, or you're in need of some advice on building a culture of wellness in your team, say hello at firstname.lastname@example.org.