Antidepressants are among the most commonly prescribed drugs in America, with a whopping one in ten Americans currently taking them. Common as it is, depression remains a widely misunderstood and stigmatized illness. It’s devastating and confusing for both sufferers and for the non-depressed people in their lives.
For her senior thesis project at Eindhoven Design Academy, Kim Haagen designed the MindBrowser, an interactive online map of the thoughts and feelings of people who suffer from depression. It’s designed to help those who are unfamiliar with these feelings to understand the reality of such dark and debilitating episodes.
“Throughout my life I have had different kinds of experiences with depression,” Haagen tells Co.Design. Out of a personal need to speak openly about the illness, she began to interview depression sufferers and psychologists about their experiences. “Slowly I started to understand that when someone falls into a depression, they actually experience a reality-shift into a different emotional world with its own logic and rules,” Haagen says. “When someone has gone through this shift, trying to identify with him or her becomes even more difficult and can leave you feeling powerless and guilty for not understanding and therefore not knowing how to help.”
The MindBrowser is a clickable map that offers narrations on the self-perpetuating spirals of shame, fear, isolation, confusion, powerlessness, guilt, self-harm, and other thought patterns that are characteristic of the mental illness.
Click “Disinterest,” and a man’s voice says, “It’s hard to find things to get even mildly interested in, and when I do find something, I get so easily distracted by my thoughts. It’s making me nervous.” A woman describes her feelings of post-partum sadness: “Ever since my baby was born, I feel strange and detached, almost as if it was a mistake having her…. The feeling that I am failing her as a mother is just unbearable.”
“I hope it will help to make different choices in communication and a difficult time a bit more intelligible,” Haagen says. “Breaking a taboo cannot be successful as a goal on its own. Therefore I chose to create a tool to enhance awareness and empathy towards depression. I think enhancing knowledge and creating awareness can be a tool to combat a taboo, since a taboo often stems out of ignorance.”