Break the Silence | Case Study
Teen Suicide Prevention Website
A web app for teens & parents to find online resources for suicide prevention.
Teen suicide has skyrocketed.
It is now the leading cause of death in states like Montana, Alaska, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah. Nationally, the rate of teen suicide, ages 10–17, has risen by 23.5 percent from 2011 to 2015.
No matter how big or small the uptick, teen suicide is a tragedy and needs to be addressed.
Our UX team of three designers was given six weeks to complete a website that would help prevent teen suicide and provide resources.
This project followed IDEO’s Design Thinking Process.
As a team, we empathized, defined and ideated. I completed prototyping and testing on my own.
Building empathy consisted of making assumptions about suicidal teens and what they are thinking and feeling. I needed to understand where they were coming from.
We tested our assumptions through extensive surveys. I talked to experts, first-hand experiencers, and random street interviewees to gather data.
Assumptions like stigma and embarrassment were validated. But the assumption that suicidal teens were visibly unhappy was not necessarily true. I spoke with parents of suicidal teens and learned that some teens seemed completely normal until they confessed to their parents.
Outward appearances are very important to teens. Even though suicidal thoughts are common, teens aren’t always willing to show how they are feeling. They would rather keep it internalized.
I interviewed Susan, a working mother of three boys. Her middle child told her on their drive to school one morning that he was having “weird thoughts.” He said he was sad and didn’t know why, and he was thinking of ways to kill himself. This was a huge shock for Susan. She described him as a happy-go-lucky, popular kid with good grades and a promising lacrosse season ahead.
“I asked him if he wanted to go the school psychologist, but he said no because he didn’t want anyone at school to know that he was going through any issues. He didn’t want to tarnish his image, or be the weird kid.” — Susan
The most shocking revelation was how common suicidal thoughts are amongst young people.
Most of our street interviews were done at the University of Utah. The majority of students interviewed either had first hand experience with friends or family members with suicidal thoughts.
I learned that it was common for some teens to seek therapy, however, there were a couple unsettling stories about when teens don’t have the resources to find a therapist. There were instances of teens being left to heal on their own because their families were unwilling to help.
After learning how common experiences with suicide were, we decided to speak to a number of licensed professionals helping suicidal students and teens.
We spoke to Dr. Brad Reedy, the Co-owner and Clinical Director of Evoke Therapy Programs in Utah. He spoke about the importance of therapy, so that if a young person is willing to address the problem, they have a better chance of overcoming suicidal thoughts.
We also spoke to two school psychologists. The most shocking finding was how early suicidal ideation occurs: as young as 9 years old. Even more shocking? How nonchalant schools act towards this rising problem.
Instead of taking a proactive approach to make sure each child has the opportunity for help, school psychologists are stretched thin, taking on at least 12 schools at a time. It’s just not possible to help everyone.
Their hope for the future was to normalize suicidal ideation: more discussion, more dialogue, more advertising. After speaking with experts, it was clear that this is the most effective way of breaking down the stigma.
I really didn’t know much about teen suicide before starting this project. But after extensive research, I learned that suicide stems from so many different kinds of stressors. Even just the stigma about having suicidal thoughts is overwhelming and stressful. Being normal is so important to teens.
So, how can the message be conveyed that, yes, suicidal ideation is normal, but it is not the only option during a crisis?
I knew that I needed to answer these questions for teens:
This website not only serves teens, but also their parents. They need to know:
Jade personified all of our interviews and research.
Jade is a high school student struggling with stress and anxiety. She sees others at school who are seemingly happier and more successful than she is, and that is disheartening. She is experiencing a lot of new emotions, but doesn’t have anyone who she trusts to talk about it with. It would be too embarrassing to be seen in the school psychologist’s office. She doesn’t think her friends will understand. She assumes they don’t feel the same way she does.
Based on assumptions, interviews, empathy maps and user personas, we created a User Story Map to visually prioritize what goals and needs were the most important for suicidal teens.
I decided that the AI chat bot needed to be the means to connect a real counselor to a teen in crisis.
Identifying MVPs was an intensive process. Our team discussed each task at length because we wanted to be sure that every narrative we created was serving the purpose of helping prevent suicide.
With the limitation of interviewing a handful of college students and a lack of access to actual suicidal teens, I had to use my best judgements about Jade to decide what she would find the most useful in her time of need.
It was important to keep in mind what was reasonable to include on a website that wouldn’t overwhelm her in an already stressful situation.
The ideation process utilized the 10x10 method. I started sketching for mobile first, and then moved to web. This gave me the opportunity to work on both artboards and visualize what was the most important content.
After ideating, I created a sitemap to organize Jade’s needs and goals.
The information architecture for my website was crucial. I needed to design with the most important information first and then follow up with other details.
I ideated a few different versions of the Stories homepage of the website, where I was using design to solve the stigma surrounding suicidal ideation. I wanted to normalize the stigma.
I needed to make sure that Jade would know where she was on the website, where she was going and where she has been. If she is feeling lost in her own life, I didn’t want her to feel lost on the website as well.
I optimized the organization of the navigation of the homepage. Depending on what Jade was feeling, she could find validation for her depression or her anxiety. She could also see other people who have suffered as well.
Yet, even after so many iteration, design critiques made me realize that the homepage was still overwhelming. I continued iterating to create an intriguing and welcoming tone with relevant articles and multimedia content.
These solutions came from rapid prototyping, usability testing and further iterations to ensure the best design-based solution.
Following the IDEO Design Process, I supported every design decision with user research, feedback and testing.
Prioritizing Information Architecture set the stage for a well thought-out layout and intuitive structure. In testing, I learned how actual user flows differed from what I had intended. For example, the FAQ page was hardly touched by younger users, but older users, like parents found it useful.
No matter where any user was, it needed to be clear that every page belonged to the same website. Consistency in typography, color and layout were important for the final product.
Feedback was a critical feature in the introduction to the chat bot. A concern raised in a design critique was that the extra step of asking for more information allowed time for a suicidal teen to waiver about whether they really wanted to talk to someone. However, I kept in that step because I thought it was necessary to identify who needed help. A suicidal teen, a parent, a friend…?
Telling the user that they are “almost there” provided visibility and operational transparency that the bot was working on connecting them to a real person, but just needed a little bit of context in order to do so.
This project had a big learning curve. If I were to re-do this project, I would focus on the following:
- Testing — The biggest challenge and constraint was the lack of access to users like Jade. I think that had I tested with suicidal teens and survivors I would have been able to prioritize content. Instead, most of my testing came from users who knew someone who had been suicidal, but had never considered it themselves. In the end, all my testing was done with a secondary or even tertiary personas. While I was able to draw inferences based on these users, gaining access to my primary user would have given the website a stronger message.
- User Interface — Tackling the problem of teen suicide was daunting. Next time, I would cut down my MVP to focus solely on what Jade needed, not her parents or friends. I think my UI would have been cleaner. I would have liked to spend more time on the homepage and chat modal to make it a more meaningful experience for Jade.