Exploring Mental Well-Being in the Confines of the Home

16.12.204 min read

Written by Lauren Grace Morris
Illustrations by Alda Lilja Hrannardóttir


Faced with a global pandemic, we have had to learn to live and work against a single backdrop: our home. It has been, of course, to ensure our health. But months of social distancing, of loss and uncertainty, and the strains of being housebound, have taken a toll on our emotional well-being. This motivated SPACE10’s first remote residency: The New Everyday Life. Partnering with Are.na, we prompted five creatives from around the world to explore the challenges of maintaining mental well-being at home.

This year has taught us a big lesson: human connection is central to our well-being. ‘Much of the adversity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic stems from the impact on social connections because of physical distancing,’ wrote the United Nations in its May 2020 policy brief COVID-19 and the Need for Action on Mental Health. As a result, many of us have experienced emotional difficulties.

To make things harder, what used to be our safe space to reset – home – has had to become a do-it-all venue. Beyond the everyday routines of sleeping, eating and rest, we now work, socialise, homeschool and even date, all within the confines of the home. This is the ‘new everyday life’.

Investigating well-being at home — from home

Our struggles may be shared globally, but they are not always experienced equally. That’s why we decided to work with creatives that could see these challenges from different angles.

Adapting to a changing world, we launched our first remote residency program to investigate how design can improve our well-being at home.

Over a month, we worked closely — albeit remotely — with five creatives in Istanbul, Lagos, Delhi, London and Amsterdam. Our residents worked from home to produce individual projects and contribute to a shared body of research, which will remain publicly accessible on Are.na.

How does this new everyday life affect our well-being? What are some of the ways in which we can overcome physical distance to feel connected?

Helping us guide the process was It’s Complicated, an online platform that matches people with mental health professionals. Founder Johanne Schwensen and clinical psychologist Katherine Gonzales met with our residents weekly. Beyond mentoring the projects, they also helped our residents unpack their own challenges, as the personal increasingly blurs with the professional.

Gonzales sees design as a tool that people can use to better manage their external stressors.

‘People are now noticing a complete lack of balance at home – because they’re noticing how much of their psychological bandwidth is taken up by work,’ she explains.

‘Clever design gives the opportunity to have these conversations about balance, boundaries and the body today.’


Togetherness and intimacy

While all five residents come from diverse backgrounds and disciplines, their concepts became united by themes of togetherness and intimacy. ‘With the intersection of mental illness, this environment has been very difficult,’ says resident Alda Lilja Hrannardóttir. ‘I wanted to dig deeper into how to make this situation better for people like me.’

The Amsterdam-based illustrator set out to create ‘a source of meaningful connection in the static world of video calls’ through which we meet – a diary-format collection of colourful illustrations, exploring what lies just outside the curated video-frame.

Genesis Lauu investigated another communication tool, looking at the expanded role of the phone call during the pandemic. To manifest the ‘third space that exists between people during a call’ Lauu built a web-archive that collects recordings of anonymous phone-ins. ‘In the end, it’s something to share,’ he notes.

Salomi Christie zoomed out on her homeplace, Delhi, to examine ways in which our cities can care for their citizens, especially the most marginalised. The human rights lawyer and designer compiled an unfinished channel of metaphorical ‘recipes’ for a caring city, considering the essential ingredients, such as adequate housing, universal basic income and breathable air.

And what will become of the hug? ‘It felt very organic that intimacy was the consensus response toward mental health issues in the time of COVID,’ says Charles Broskoski, Are.na co-founder and one of the project mentors. Osione Itegboje devised a digital radio and sound archive for people’s experiences with bodily pleasure. The Lagos-based policy maker, graphic designer and multimedia artist explains that it’s ‘an attempt to rediscover lost intimacy’. Alice Stewart visualized the hug of tomorrow: her modular wearables allow you to send a fellow wearer a distanced squeeze through the exchange of heat.

‘I wondered if we can develop more nuanced technology that better serves our emotional needs,’ she shares.


Learning from one another

Despite shaky Wi-Fi connections, busy backgrounds and the awkwardness of forging new relationships online, the residents established a strong collaborative bond. They took time to meet outside of set appointments, learning from one another as fellow researchers and new friends.

For us at SPACE10, the innovative synergy that emerged through the remoteness is the biggest accomplishment of the residency. ‘The best thing we can do to provide a good experience for designers is to make it less of a monoculture, and more interdisciplinary,’ says Charles Broskoski from Are.na.

SPACE10 design producer Elsa Dagný Ásgeirsdóttir also stresses this approach:

‘Everybody is a designer in their own way, because you are part of shaping a community and the way that we collectively think as humans,’ she reflects. ‘So, design definitely plays a role here – but we all play a role.’