Writing with mental health in mind

Mark Avery writing for the Education and Skills Funding Agency:

The internet can be an intimidating place for people with mental health issues. I should know. For as I can remember I’ve been going into battle daily with the beast known as depression.

The simplest tasks can become difficult when the ‘black dog’ has its grip on you because you can’t focus and, at best, you feel physically and mentally sluggish. My symptoms are very mild in comparison to some other people, but I’m not alone.

Today in the UK, approximately 1 in 4 people have a mental health condition and around 10% of people will experience depression in their lifetime. This thought stays with me during my day-to-day work as the apprenticeship service’s lead content designer. I feel that having this kind of condition can help me to empathise with others in a similar position.

Notes

If you have mental health issues and cannot easily access the information you need, it is likely you will have increased feelings of anxiety. One of the things I wanted to do when I took on my role was to use my experiences to ensure our services are accessible for people with mental health conditions.

Making services accessible to all

I believe this is where great content can help. It has the power to create order out of unholy confusion. And, meeting user needs is the simplest way to make the potentially stressful experience of managing apprenticeships into an easy one.

We have done this by making sure:

  • people can understand our content – we have always used the simplest language possible
  • people can find information quickly – the content gets to the point straight away
  • users can do what they need to do easily – user journeys are intuitive and involve the minimum number of steps necessary
  • we make sure our pages don’t contain any unnecessary distractions and that all the information on there meets identifiable user needs
  • we use personalised adaptive content once users have logged in to their accounts so they only see information relevant to them
  • we don’t make assumptions about our users – we always explain terms and concepts that users might not be familiar with
  • our content works visually, including links and buttons – the content is easy to see and read, and is scalable on different devices
  • we have done rigorous research and testing of the accessibility of our content to ensure it meets accessibility standards

Trying to understand the problems people face

However, I’ve found there are still significant gaps in our knowledge and understanding of how mental health impacts the online user experience. And, this needs to change, especially considering the huge number of people who suffer from mental health conditions.

Let’s consider the kind of issues people with cognitive impairment might face:

  • short term memory loss
  • lack of concentration and attention
  • difficulties processing lots of information
  • poor hand-eye coordination
  • slow thinking
  • trouble making decisions
  • lack of motivation
  • impatience
  • constant need for validation

And, these problems often increase when sufferers are stressed.

Getting involved

Beyond the common sense basics of good content, what else we can do to improve our services for people with cognitive impairment issues? Honestly, I don’t know.

So, consider this an appeal to anyone out there who suffers from a mental health condition to get involved with user testing. Tell us your frustrations, what we’re doing right, and what we need to do to make things better.

You can get in touch with me, in confidence, at mark.avery@sfa.bis.gov.uk. I’d love to hear from you!

1 in 5 have poor mental health due to finances

Research by Turn2us shows that 18% experience mental health problems as a result of their financial situation.

#MentalHealthAwarenessWeek

In a survey of 3,081 people seeking our help, 960 responded that they experienced mental health problems and stress as a consequence of their financial situation.

Additionally 19% (993 people) said that energy costs in the winter makes their stress and worry worse.

Mental Health Awareness Week

Mental Health Awareness Week is taking place from 8-14 May 2017.

This year’s theme is ‘Surviving or Thriving?’

Marie, a single mother, told the Mental Health Foundation: “I came to be on benefits and a single parent at age 28. I was dealing with bereavement, depression and low self-esteem while trying to rebuild our whole lives from scratch.”

Mental Health Awareness Week poster from the Mental Health Foundation

However there is help out there. Marie went on to say: “By joining a course run by the Mental Health Foundation, I learnt something new during every session; from goal setting, mental wellbeing, and tools for managing emotions and stress, to training opportunities and services for single parents.”

Mental health and a person’s financial situation

There is a strong relationship between a person’s financial situation and their mental health. 86% say their financial situation makes their mental health worse and 72% say their mental health problems make their financial situation worse.

24% of adults in the poorest fifth of society develop a mental illness, compared with 14% on an average income.

The more debts a person has, the more likely they are to develop a mental health problem. A quarter of people with common mental health problems are in financial difficulty.

Turn2us help

We can provide you with financial information and help.

If your mental health is affected by your financial situation, use our Benefit Calculator to see what benefits you might be entitled to.

You can also use our Grants Search to find charitable funds that might be able to help you, based on your background, situation and needs.

Mental health charities

If you have mental health issues and need help, visit the Mind website or the Mental Health Foundation website for information and support

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