Redesigning the help-seeking experience for youth
Nearly half of all lifetime mental illness cases in the U.S. begin by age 14, yet 79% of the youth in need of care don’t access it. Support is either not easy to find or not available to all. Stanford University’s Department of Psychiatry's Center for Youth Mental Health & Wellbeing wanted to redefine the threshold for seeking care, making it easy for youth to walk in and tackle challenges, big or small. They engaged IDEO.org to design a brand and space that would alleviate stigma and meet youth where they are. How might we create a non-judgmental space where teens can press pause and seek help?
As of August 2018, Santa Clara County Behavioral Health Services—in collaboration with the Stanford Psychiatry Center for Youth Mental Health & Wellbeing—secured state approval to use $15 million in county innovation funds to open two integrated youth mental health centers - the first in the nation. The first allcove centers are in the process of being built in San Jose and Palo Alto and are designed to serve at least 1,000 young people in their first year. As more centers develop around the nation, the core architectural and visual elements will remain the same. But the hope is that local communities will add their own color to different touchpoints in the allcove experience.
So, what does it feel like to be 16-years old? Parents expect support at home; siblings demand attention; teachers insist on excellence; friends want constant online engagement—amassed, these expectations can feel unreasonable, and become an undercurrent of tension in their lives.The team spent a lot of time co-designing with 15-to-21 year old high school and community college students during this project. A youth advisory group of 27 teenagers contributed to every step of the process—from sharing about their lives to determining what the physical spaces would look like.
Youth mapped their current school environments & social dynamics answering questions like “If I was an alien who had just arrived at your school, what’s the first thing you’d tell me to help me understand what’s going on?” They brought designers into their social media worlds, both public and private. Co-creation activities inspired everything from brand language, to physical environments, to the way they’re interacted with by staff.
In one of the sessions, the design team created physical prototypes of what the space would look like out of existing furniture, cardboard, and tape. Experiencing it firsthand, the youth advisory group helped to redesign and reimagine elements of the space. There were also exercises where members of the youth advisory group acted out their ideal greeting experience when they entered the allcove center. This later informed the experience playbook that was created by the design team, and is being used as a reference during the build out.
One of the insights gleaned from research was that “me time” looks different for each individual. Youth wanted multiple options for engagement and the freedom to choose between socializing, being alone, or seeking counseling or other services. Therefore, one of the concepts created was a digital orientation that allows youth to get a tour of the physical environment and general offerings either in the space or before they even arrived.
Experiences are individual and complex. Brand imagery alluded to the breadth of personal experience with “emotion gradients”, a wash of color signifying the mix of feelings often at play.
Two other principles behind the design were “Alone, but not alone” and “On your own terms”. Spaces were designed to communicate togetherness and normalization of difficult conversations while giving each person a space of their own. That took the form of seating facing outward toward the window and counseling rooms that were private while hinting to others that conversations were happening around them. Youth could easily reach out when they were ready without staff pushing them toward care.
Architects could use the 3D model of allcove’s flagship interior design along with the experience playbook to make decisions around how to retrofit each location. The experience playbook serves as a model for interactions that will be carried out by service providers and support staff as centers begin to open.