A Call to Action: Using and Extending Human-Centered Design Methodologies to Improve Mental and Behavioral Health Equity

Front Digit Health. 2022 Apr 25:4:848052. doi: 10.3389/fdgth.2022.848052. eCollection 2022.


Mental health disparities directly tie to structural racism. Digital mental health (DMH), the use of technologies to deliver services, have been touted as a way to expand access to care and reduce disparities. However, many DMH fail to mitigate the persistent disparities associated with structural racism that impact delivery (e.g., costs, dependable internet access)-and may even exacerbate them. Human-centered design (HCD) may be uniquely poised to design and test interventions alongside, rather than "for," marginalized individuals. In employing HCD methodologies, developers may proceed with a vested interest in understanding and establishing empathy with users and their needs, behaviors, environments, and constraints. As such, HCD used to mindfully address structural racism in behavioral health care may address shortcomings of prior interventions that have neglected to elevate the voices of marginalized individuals. We argue that a paradigm shift in behavioral health services research is critically needed-one that embraces HCD as a key methodological framework for developing and evaluating interventions with marginalized communities, to ultimately promote more accessible, useful, and equitable care. The current commentary illustrates practical examples of the use of HCD methodologies to develop and evaluate DMH designed with marginalized populations, while also highlighting its limitations and need for even greater inclusivity. Following this, calls to action to learn from and improve upon HCD methodologies will be detailed. Acknowledging potential limitations of current design practices, methodologies must ultimately engage representative voices beyond research participation and invest in their active role as compensated and true collaborators to intervention design.

Keywords: anti-racism; digital mental health; equity; human-centered design; mental health.