Break Room is a space concept designed to occupy unused classrooms across Northwestern’s campus that offers activities and resources centered around relaxation, play and self-awareness.
The Room offers free services for all students that relieves mental strain, prompts students to reflect, and encourages them to suggest solutions and ideas to their peers.
Northwestern students feel stressed - often, and sometimes, overwhelmingly. The University has many free mental health resources, but undergraduates don’t understand them, don’t trust them, and/or aren’t aware of them. We asked ourselves,
How might we help students take time out of their day to partake in intentional, meaningful, and stress-relieving breaks?
Our goal was to tackle these barriers to entry for existing services, and ultimately encourage increased use of resources in our community. A combination of interviews, observations, and surveys informed what proved to be a quite complex Stakeholder Map.
When do students most often encounter stress - and are there common time frames or location-based opportunities during a typical student week where mental health resources could be most impactful? Persona development, interviews, and journey mapping sought to answer these questions. Our protagonist, "Christina," is a junior at Northwestern who is vaguely familiar about the mental health services the university has to offer...but is unsure if it's for her.
After reflection, debate, and a lot of synthesizing, we came to 6 core insights.
There are an overwhelming number of Northwestern departments that offer support to students.
Connection to relevant departments relies on close friends, or requires high motivation to seek out.
Students are more likely to try services with trusted peers - it makes them feel more comfortable and more accountable to attend.
Students often prioritize other forms of wellness (exercising, eating well, or maintaining a study schedule) over mental health because they are less stigmatized and more tangible.
Undergraduate students have the perception that CAPS (Northwestern’s Counseling and Psychological Services) is unreliable, but this stems from CAPS’ controversial counseling reputation. Many haven’t tried or heard of other CAPS resources, such as workshops and drop-in appointments.
Students don’t have a universal platform to share their ideas about stress relief with others.
After ideating, We prototyped Break Room, a physical space for reflection. User feedback informed our final service, which is described in detail in the Blueprint.
Our team presented Break Room to faculty, students, and CAPS directors in June 2016. In early 2017, Northwestern lifted the limit of free counseling appointments that undergraduates can use at the health center. We continue to advocate for Break Room and positive mental health as Northwestern increases its commitment to student health.