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Exploring the future of mental health services

Audience sitting and standing, looking at the finished bathroom cabinets and applauding

by Josina Vink, Regional Implementation Coordinator, GTA Region, Provincial System Support Program

What might we find in our bathroom cabinets in 2034?

What could the future of mental health services look like?

What does it mean to invest in future-oriented health innovation?

These are the questions explored by 40 service providers, innovators and individuals with lived experience of mental health needs at a session hosted by MaRS and CAMH on May 23rd.

Chris McCarthy, innovation lead at Kaiser Permanente, opened up the afternoon with a demonstration of the value and process of establishing innovation capacity within healthcare settings, exemplified by the development of Kaiser’s Innovation Consultancy.

The discussion with Chris was followed by a hands-on workshop to test out an emerging innovation method to explore the future of mental health.

The workshop was built on the understanding that the health care system can’t just focus on doing the same old better. While working to improve the current system, we also need to invest in new services and new systems that will help us prepare for the future and guide it in a positive direction.

With this in mind, workshop participants rolled up their sleeves to fill medicine cabinets with artifacts from the future using an emerging method called reverse archaeology.

Reverse archaeology is a new technique, coined by futurist Stuart Candy, where participants tell stories about future possibilities by creating objects from the future – just as archaeologists use historical fragments found to uncover the story of our past. This process bridges abstract thoughts about what could be with concrete objects to keep it real.

In this case, the method was intended to spark imagination about the spectrum of possibilities for health innovation and help us meaningfully experience alternative futures.

two photos side by side - people digging into craft materials to build their artifacts

Digging in: Making artifacts for the future

What’s reverse archaeology? And what does it mean for the future of mental health services? 

Welcome to the Imaginarium! The process

After a brief introduction to reverse archaeology, and the overall vision for the project, four small groups each received a scenario of mental health services in 2034 and a bathroom cabinet.

We shared four specific scenarios with the groups to feed the imagination

They were asked to fill the cabinet with artifacts that someone might find in the future world outlined in their scenario.

This process involved the following four steps:

  1. Visit the Future: Groups reviewed their scenarios and by imagining themselves in this future world, discussed what this world might mean for people’s mental health needs.
  2. Capture the Essence: Participants worked together to identify the most compelling discoveries about mental health services in this future and sketched objects that reflected these discoveries.
  3. Craft the Artifacts: The groups then identified compelling objects to bring to life, built them quickly using craft supplies, and placed them in their group’s bathroom cabinet.
  4. Showtime:All participants came back together to view the mini-exhibit of bathroom cabinets from the future, with brief explanations from each group.
Four bathroom cabinets with all of the created artifacts inside

FYI: This is what your bathroom cabinets might look like in 2034 :)

The bathroom cabinets that resulted from this process were thought-provoking, inspiring, and eerie.

The cabinets were filled with future objects like:

  • The next generation mood ring that instantly communicates your every emotion
  • Social communication platforms to reduce isolation
  • Monitoring devices linked to peer support
  • Built-in mindfulness activities
  • Positive affirmations based on the owner’s current state
  • Bio-feedback toothbrushes
  • Monitoring chips that signal to others for support in times of need

One cabinet was designed for a public washroom where everyone could have access to the equivalent of an artificially-intelligent hi-five and a portal to instant customized mental health supports.

While the workshop lasted no more than two hours and the new objects created (many with a strong emphasis on technology) were only made of construction paper, popsicle sticks and plasticine, the exhibit of cabinets can’t be ignored.

It sparks emotion, ignites new thinking, generates questions, and invites conversation about the future. The cabinets speak to the need for more investment in exploring the future possibilities of mental health services and the value of co-creating the possibilities together with people from all walks of life.

The mini-exhibit will be on display shortly at MaRS Discovery District. For more information on the exhibit or the process, feel free to contact me at josina.vink@camh.ca.

What would your artifact look like? What do you think of this weird way of bringing the future to life?

How are others exploring the future of mental health services? We’d love to hear about your thoughts on the future or other approaches to exploring this space!

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