"Thing from the Near Future"
New York City, Summer 2019
Our second project for Parson's Design Studio course this summer was called "Thing from the Near Future." We were asked to create a product that would benefit society in 50 years from now, assuming various issues we have today would only escalate. As a class, we brainstormed various "cool" inventions from flying cars to the cure for cancer. In 50 years, there will be problems that the world will face that we will have no way of preparing for or could even imagine happening today, so the goal was to think very hypothetically as to how we, 34 individuals from over 10 different countries, could get a head start. While some of my classmates chose to address issues such as air pollution, phone usage, sustainability, etc. and create very futuristic feeling products, I took quite the different route.
On average, the suicide rate in the US has increased by 24% between 1999 an 2014, reaching the highest it has in 28 years. According to National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the US (46.6 Million) experience mental illness in a year, 20% of youth (13-18) already live with mental illness. 50% of lifetime cases of mental illness begin by the age of 14, and 75% by the age of 24. In addition to the individual impacts mental illness has, it also costs America 193.2 Billion in loss of earnings every year. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., and the second leading cause of death for people aged 10-34, and on average, 18-22 veterans commit suicide every single day. The recent increase in popularity of mental health conditions have led mental illness to be the leading condition for high school dropouts. 70% of youth in Juvenile justice systems have mental illness. Mental health isn't something that can be fixed with medicine or therapists. It takes on average 8-10 years to "recover" or even begin to drop symptoms. And while these stats are concerning, what concerns me more is that there doesn't seem to be any light to the end of mental illness, or even hope for it. Recovery websites only suggest school counseling, seeking help from pediatricians, and connecting with family, which are all things every student and adult should be thinking about whether they’re diagnosed as mentally ill or not. When my highschool had elections for the student body president this past May, there were 14 candidates. Only one of them addressed the lack of mental health awareness on campus. Countless students spoke out in agreement to what she addressed, and she was elected vice president.
Whether an individual is diagnosed with a mental condition or not, everyone experiences anxiety, depression, doubt, and countless other consuming emotions on some level as they are all natural reactions of our DNAs. Because our bodies are programmed to host these emotions, there is nothing to hide or be ashamed of. Unfortunately, however, in today’s society, we do try to ignore and neglect mental illnesses due to shame and denial, and neglecting our emotions only builds unhealthy habits and thoughts that will eventually wear us down.
And while I could write on and on about how much technology has helped society, or even create another piece of technology like my classmates did for this project, I could also write on and on about why it is the current leading cause of mental health. I was lucky enough to live the first 12 or so years of my life without a phone. This might seem silly as now those with a phone can’t go anywhere without it, and even kids as young as 6 seem to be more reliant on their screens then they are on their parents, but personally, I wish I could go back to those years without it. Parents always talk about how video games rot their kid's minds, but what about social media rotting our self esteems? One girl in my class at Parsons created a pair of glasses that would allow the wearer to be in a virtual world set in a forest, as she believes that forests will no longer exist if our consumer environment continues as it is. However, what's the point of these glasses if the adults who will be wearing them didn’t bother to take their eyes off of their phones and go outside or try to help save the environment while they still could? I didn’t need research to know that mental health goes deeper than phone usage, or that we have yet to discover a cure, but it did teach me just how common mental illness is, and how little people seem to care.
This summer, whenever I found myself alone crowded by millions of sweaty New Yorkers and a wave of sadness rushed over me, whether it be from stress or the inability to find myself in the mess, my immediate reaction was to go on my phone to distract myself. I scrolled through Instagram and watching snapchat stories to escape my thoughts, but I was running in circles from reality and it always caught up with me. I realized unlocking my phone and opening apps couldn’t even solve boredom, yet I still felt the need to reconnect and refresh. I was supposed to be living my dream of being a designer in Manhattan, but I was losing myself and my dream more every day. I was hesitant to break apart what Mental Health meant to me, but I knew it mattered far more than any prototype of a 3D camera or teleportation device the class would reveal at the end of the course.
So, I built a product that would hypothetically be a remedy for mental Illness. I designed blue heart shaped jewelry and pins made out of leather that support mental health awareness. Every heart has wood inside the leather such that the wearer can put a calming picture, poem, or note inside the piece so when in a time of distress, rather than pulling out their phone, the wearer can pull out their locket and recenter themselves. Leather is a strong material, and no matter how many marks and imperfections on it, it will always hold its shape like how hearts can always stay strong. Each piece also has an engraving or initials to further bring emotional support and sentiment to the wearer. Blue is national color for Mental Health, so the pins would allow the wearer to visually show their support and that no one is suffering alone. I learned a lot about myself while verbally supporting my product to my peers and teachers and discovering how I could make a difference. My result of this project was my first product that I sketched, constructed, and photographed, that wasn’t a dress or any other garment for that matter. While walking through a woodworking lab with eye protection and talking to carpenters instead of sitting in a sewing studio with mannequins, fabric, and Vogue wasn’t what I expected to be doing in New York this summer, I wouldn't have had it any other way, and the feedback, challenge, and personal pride I received from this product is far more rewarding than any dress I will ever make.