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The Great Dark Wonder

Explorations in designing a system of care to address self-stigma about mental illness

Rachel M. Murray

This Web site is devoted to a project completed for the 2 year MFA in Transdisciplinary Design program at Parsons School of Design. This thesis explores how a transdisciplinary design approach can create design interventions that address self-stigma experienced by those with a mental illness. Design should work to improve existing systems, but also create new interventions and cultural infrastructures and explore new ways of thinking and tools to make new systems come to exist.  This thesis is an exploration on how to change our views of mental illness as something ‘to treat and erase’ to mental wellness, as something ‘to live and thrive with’.

What is a Great Dark Wonder?

The title and inspiration for this project is a line by Greg Keelor from the Canadian band Blue Rodeo, taken from the song ‘Hasn’t Hit Me Yet‘:

Greg Keelor

The idea of ‘a great dark wonder’ – something difficult to understand, powerful and intimidating yet with shards of beauty at its core – was irresistible for me as a thesis topic.  The Transdisciplinary Design program focuses on how to design social innovation projects that tackle systems challenges and in particular focused on wicked problems – ‘social or cultural problems’ […] difficult or impossible to solve [because of] incomplete or contradictory knowledge, the number of people and opinions involved, the large economic burden, and the interconnected nature of these problems with other problems’.

Stigma – and mental illness – is one of those great dark wonders.  Carl Jung wrote that to explore difficult topics , ‘one does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious’.  In some ways Greg Keelor speaks of this darkness as well.  He could be singing about love or cold Canadian winters but the words could also point to vulnerability, isolation, and our need to find acceptance, too.  In my darkest hours this song would call to me.  It’s a short love letter to longing, love and searching for home.  The image of snow falling on water late at night speaks to the power of poetry as a siren song to keep going in our toughest moments.  It can be a beacon, a Lighthouse, a way forward.  May we all understand those great dark wonders, and the waves of our own hearts, and how to heal them.

Viewing content on this site

Parts of this site are password protected – specifically the prototypes and final design proposal – as the project is in active development; please email me for the password if you’d like a look.

One of the evocative healing objects created during the thesis