Talking About Mental Health

Designing a Summit with Mental Health in Mind

On Thursday, January 10th, mental health professionals from around the city braved the cold weather to discuss how we can make the Inclusive Innovation Summit easier to navigate and more enjoyable for people with mental health conditions.

We met in the Carnegie Library downtown using human-centered design methods to brainstorm how we can maintain a welcoming environment at the Summit and amplify and center the voices of the people involved. The goal of the Inclusive Innovation Meetups is to develop ideas for events at the Summit, which takes place March 28–30.

While there were ideas for event proposals, the main conversation revolved around how we can make the existing programming more inclusive. We were pleased with the excellent suggestions and the open dialogue.

We now have a broader understanding of how to think about mental health issues and accessibility in the context of the Inclusive Innovation Summit. Here are some of the great ideas we discussed.


Navigating Unfamiliar Spaces

Post-its written at Meetup on January 10 (Post-it 1: “small venues in familiar locations” Post-it 2: “a lot of directional signage” Post-it 3: “buddy system”)

Many of the participants addressed how difficult it can be for people with anxiety to enter new spaces. A buddy system would allow for people to call ahead and request a volunteer or another attendee to stay with them for the duration of the event. This would help that person feel more comfortable so they can focus on the content being presented. Small spaces are easier to navigate than convention centers, but if programming needs to be spread out, there should be clear and consistent signage throughout the summit, with volunteers stationed at different points if necessary.


Space and Time to Debrief

Post-its written at Meetup on January 10 (Post-it 1: “health is mind body and spirit. let’s nurture the whole” Post-it 2: “VR relaxation sensory space” Post-it 3: “pop-up mental health cafe”)

A constant flow of activities and presentations can be exhausting. At the Meetup, it was pointed out that a quiet space for participants to decompress is important. It would give people the opportunity to sit down and discuss what they’ve learned as well as make connections with one another. A pop-up mental health cafe is a popular concept in the mental health community. It is designed as a casual setting where anyone is welcome to participate and talk about what’s on their mind. Inside our Minds is an organization based in Pittsburgh that is hosting a Mental Health Cafe on January 31st. Check out their Facebook for more information. Other ideas included a VR Relaxation Sensory Space or support groups for specific populations.


Elevating Voices

Post-its written at Meetup on January 10 (Post-it 1: “let people share their stories and amplify them” Post-it 2: “names matter” Post-it 3: “open mic (anonymous)”)

We need to think about how we can go beyond the usual parameters of inclusion so that all of our attendees know their opinions matter and their presence is valued. Some ideas we talked about at the Meetup centered on how to engage ‘invisible’ populations. Invisible populations are groups of people that are overlooked — such as people experiencing homelessness or people with disabilities. Without an opportunity to be heard, their opinions and stories often go unnoticed.

To ensure they are heard, we might need to make creative adjustments to encourage participation, such as providing a pen and paper to those who don’t feel comfortable raising their hands at events. Another way the Inclusive Innovation Summit can engage with them is by providing a platform that will amplify their voices such as an Open Mic, which allows for anyone to share their story. Inside our Minds is hosting an Anonymous Open Mic on January 23rd, with more information on their Facebook.

We also talked about how to be ‘mad inclusive.’ ‘Mad Pride’ is a movement within the mental health community focused on celebrating people who have historically been stigmatized due to their mental illnesses. By using the word ‘mad’ to talk about themselves, they are taking back ownership of language that has been used to isolate them. It re-frames mental health activism to focus on empowering people with mental illness.


Utilizing Technology

Post-its written at Meetup on January 10 (Post-it 1: “use tech to help people share experience” Post-it 2: “stigma reduction is necessary. social media needs to be used to address.” Post-it 3: “portray stories via tech/experience”)

Technology can be especially useful as a way to empower people that might not otherwise feel seen. We talked about an organization that uses headphones to show what it’s like for people living with schizophrenia. They do this by playing audio that is similar to what a person with schizophrenia might hear, while the participant tries to go about their daily routines.

Another idea that was presented was a recording booth so individuals can listen to other people’s stories as well as record their own. During presentations, an option to text a response or question to the leaders would help get more people involved. Finally, a resource wall where organizations can post their contact information and mission statements would help build more bridges.


Journeying Forward

We’re excited about the ideas we came up with at the Mental Health Meetup and we’re grateful to everyone who came out! It is important to have open dialogues about these issues. The conversation showed our team how much there is to learn and the many ways we can improve.

Our next Inclusive Innovation Meetup stop will take place on January 24th at AlphaLab Gear. The theme is Inclusive Workforce. Be sure to RSVP and if you’re not able to come, check in here for a recap!

The deadline for proposal submission is coming up on January 31st and we’re looking for creative ideas from organizations throughout the city. If you have an idea or you know someone making noteworthy contributions to the city related to one of our four themes, please share the link to our proposal page with them. The themes this year are: Active Learning, Knowledge Sharing, Capacity Building and Empathy Training.


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