The VRtality program is founded on the knowledge that libraries play a key role in supporting teen mental health. This happens through services that lead to destigmatizing mental health by having open conversations about mental well-being with youth, families, and colleagues. VRtality works to achieve this through authentic relationship building and providing agency to youth through the co-design of mental health focused virtual reality experiences.
Co-design emphasizes that youth and adults design together instead of adults designing for youth. As a result co-design enables library staff to build strong relationships with youth and at the same time empowers teens to take a lead in design and implementation of library programs and services. Using co-design techniques democratizes the design of services by equalizing the power dynamics between multiple community assets, making everyone involved equal partners in the design of programs and services.
The overarching principles of co-design are:
- All co-designers are equal partners
- Every opinion is valid and of equal importance
- Design takes place without constraints
- There are no preconceived notions
Within those co-design principles the following elements are critical:
- Relationships: centered on trust and power sharing
- Flexibility and agility: centered on scaffolding learning, risk taking and failure
- Teamwork: centered on embracing different perspectives and varying levels of expertise
- Openness to learning: centered on co-learning, new ideas, and not being an expert
For many library staff, VR is probably something they think about within the context of gaming. However, VR has the potential to be a launching pad for a variety of library services that support teen growth and well-being. It has been shown as an engaging and feasible technology for interventions with adolescents. Experts suggest that the potential for VR as a mental health application for adolescents is truly promising. VR has demonstrated successful promotion of mindfulness and emotional regulation in teens. In addition, teens find participating in VR design engaging and stress reducing. While it is possible to co-design mental health related products with teens using other technology, “There is a joy and wonder and affordances of VR that make it especially suited to mental-health work. VR enables learning and exploring together. It is a creative and novel space for codesign.” — Juan Rubio, Project Principal Investigator
Why Teen Mental Health?
Teens need opportunities to reflect on their emotions and their responses to those emotions and libraries are an ideal community service to support that reflection. For this work keep in mind that library staff, or community partners outside of mental health professionals, are not being asked to help teens navigate traumatic mental health experiences. Instead the role of library staff and partners is to help teens understand where stress and healthy well-being come from and how to embrace activities that support those.
The diagram above highlights four aspects of teen mental well-being and how they can be demonstrated through library-based co-design and VR activities.
Keep in mind that in all of the activities you facilitate with teens – from beginning relationship-building activities to testing and iterating VR experiences – integrate ways for teens to think about, express, and engage in positive mental health. By recognizing that mental health is an everyday occurrence, it can be a part of library services beyond crisis hotlines and crisis-related resources. This integration opens up opportunities to remove stigmas associated with mental health and support teens so that they have skills that help them to work on their mental health every day and in that way be proactive in averting crisis.
We’ve included two videos (with Elin Björling Senior Research Scientist at the University of Washington Human Centered Design and Engineering Department) that will help you to understand what teen mental health is all about:
- Presentation to Caring for Teen Mental Health community of practice presentation focusing on what library staff need to know about teen mental health.
- Conversation with teens about teen mental health. This presentation was a part of the design sprint portion of this project – read more about that below.