Capstone Project - Three Fourteen
16066
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Capstone Project

SafteyNet: Improving Mental Health Care for Veterans

Overview

Description of Project: This project aims to reduce the social barriers of seeking mental health care for Veterans, particularly those who might be experiencing suicidal thoughts.

Audience Scope: 18.2 million U.S. Veterans
Topic of Project: Social, Political, Health, Educational

Problem

How might we help Veterans by reducing the barriers associated with getting help during a mental health crisis? Veterans are not likely to seek help when experiencing suicidal thoughts. Fear, uncertainty of confidentiality, repercussions, and the stigma associated with mental health treatment were major concerns indicated by Veterans that made it harder for them to ask for help.

The suicide rate is

1.5X

greater for Veterans than non-Veterans

Solution

In order to help Veterans get the mental health assistance they need, we must not wait for them to ask for help, but rather offer them help when they are in need. By guiding those closest to them through a conversation about suicide, we can leverage these relationships to mitigate the social and cognitive barriers a Veteran might face in asking for assistance themselves.

What we learned

  • Veterans are more likely to accept offered help than to ask for help themselves.
  • Even Veterans with close familial/spousal relationships are unlikely to ask for help.

Looking Back

After concluding the research survey, I wish we had asked about global self-efficacy, whether the respondents believed they had the ability and control they needed when it came to reaching out for help. I also wish we had a larger sample size, and questions that identified all of the demographics at the highest risk including female Veterans and those with co-morbidity mental health factors. I believe this would have given us a much better picture of why Veterans are not seeking help for themselves despite strong indications through the aspects of the Reasoned action model we analyzed. Given more time, I think it would also have been advantageous to address the concerns of the Veterans as to what might happen if they ask for help. Finally, one thing really needed to make this project successful is a deployment strategy that was not within the scope of our design process. Next step: How might we get the SafetyNet Handbook to a Veteran’s spouse or family member to use when mental health care might be needed?

Details

Baseline Information

Over the last few years, Veteran Suicide has been top priority amongst in the health and political arenas. Veterans across the nation are struggling to access adequate care and, in some cases, taking their own lives in the waiting rooms of the facilities designated to help them. Despite viral awareness campaigns such as the 22 push-ups challenge, Veteran Suicides remain a major concern.

Research Brief
Published: December 8, 2019

Storyboarding

Initially we had slated this project to provide a technology based solution in line with those discussed in the previous project above. Unfortunately, due to time and resource constraints, we needed to go in a different design direction, focusing not on technology, but rather on the interactions that might help us reach our goal of reducing the barriers to mental health care. By focusing solely on the interaction, and not on the platform, we felt we would be able to accomplish this within the capstone semester.

Survey

During the design process, it was necessary to conduct a formative study to learn more about the target population. This study was conducted using a survey method based on the Reasoned Action Model that was learned from Dr. Angela Lee’s Attitudes and Behaviors course. This model focuses on how behavioral intention is formed and can be influenced through targeted beliefs. In this project, we focused on two conditions:

  • Veterans asking for help when experiencing suicidal thoughts.
  • Veterans accepting offered help when experiencing suicidal thoughts.

Research Outcomes

During the research process we learned about the different levels of targeted approaches used by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as the extent of the problem facing our Veterans. Furthermore, we learned which Veterans are at the highest risk for suicidal thoughts and what demographics might be best served by our project. In conducting the survey, we learned that the majority of those who indicated they had experienced suicidal thoughts had not sought help, despite having close familial/spousal relationships. We also learned that they would be more likely, based on their responses, to accept help that was offered to them in the future than to seek help on their own. In addition to this, we learned that fear, social stigma, and unknown consequences of seeking help were primary factors making it harder for Veterans to seek assistance for themselves.

Design Strategy

Target: Individual Level, Relationship Level

Demographics: subgroups with close familial/spousal relationships that may be at increased risk for suicidal behaviors

By developing our project for the spouse/family member of a Veteran vs. for the Veteran themselves, we are able to provide a buffer for the stigma associated with suicide, providing support up front. We are also able to guide the close relation through offering help, preventing the Veteran from having to seek assistance on their own where they would take all of the risk on themselves.

Early Prototype

Target: Individual Level, Relationship Level

 

Demographics: subgroups with close familial/spousal relationships that may be at increased risk for suicidal behaviors

 

By developing our project for the spouse/family member of a Veteran vs. for the Veteran themselves, we are able to provide a buffer for the stigma associated with suicide, providing support up front. We are also able to guide the close relation through offering help, preventing the Veteran from having to seek assistance on their own where they would take all of the risk on themselves.

Pros

  • Good Content

Cons

  • Too many pages
  • Need to simplify design

Final Design

  • Acceptability – privacy was a major concern due to the sensitive nature of the project topic. With that in mind, this project was developed as a downloadable form where none of the data entered is stored online.
  • Appropriateness – the design takes into account the self-efficacy control beliefs and values of privacy. It also follows the behavior patterns learned through our survey by offering help instead of expecting Veterans to ask for assistance.
  • Usefulness – While data exists on how to convince someone to seek treatment, as well as on the risks and signs of mental health crisis/suicidal thoughts, this project takes these resources a step further by communication tips and guiding the conversation.
  • Availability – This form is available as both a print document and a tabable pdf online. Distribution and the ability to get this workbook into the hands of those close to Veterans is one of the concerns this project does not fully address.
  • Usability – Tababilty as well as a clear design, making appropriate use of design elements, structure, and color helps to clarify how the user should interact with the document during use.

SafetyNet Workbook
Published: December 10, 2019