Looking out for your users mental health during research

People are at the centre of user experience. Whilst we aren’t mental health professionals, we can all spot the signs our users are struggling with their mental health and safeguard them.

Reflecting on my experience

Signs to look out for

  • Changes in behaviour (e.g. more or less talkative and open)
  • Sudden emotional outbursts and dramatic changes in mood (e.g. being irritable, tearful, or angry)
  • Mentions of sleeping problems
  • Weight or appetite changes
  • Poor concentration, forgetfulness and being easily distracted
  • Compulsive actions (e.g. constantly checking something)
  • Pay attention to the context (e.g. job changes, problems at home)

Protecting users during research

  • If you know the discussion will be challenging before the session, call the participant (or if they have an auditory impairment, email them) to explain what topics they’ll be asked about and double check if they still want to proceed.
  • Never force users to talk about anything that might be too difficult. Make it clear in your introduction to the session that they have the right to withdraw at any time, or decline to speak about a topic.
  • After, give participants a debrief sheet. Reflect back to them what you were doing and what happens next.
  • On the debrief sheet, include charities or resources they may need to chat to. Make sure they’re relevant to what you’ve discussed (e.g. Samaritans, Citizens Advice, Macmillan).
  • Have a support worker available for them to speak with privately.
  • Be flexible; adapt your plans based on your users state of mind and be willing to try alternative methods (e.g. go from in person to remote).

Supporting teammates observing research

  • Speak to the people that could be running or are involved with the sessions before they’re assigned it to see if they’re comfortable with the project.
  • Allow at least 30 mins between each session for people to decompress and offer a debrief. Let them choose how they spend that time, some people will need air and to walk around, whereas others will need to talk.
  • Block out the next day for downtime and decompression. Individually follow up and check in on all observers and note-takers.
  • Point them to any internal mental health and wellbeing resources your organisation has, as well as any charities and external resources that might help.
  • Talk to you line manager about your experience and what support you need, raise any concerns you have and improvements for the future.

You can’t pour from an empty cup



I’m Emily (she/her) a Lead UX Designer at cinch, I talk about that. Also, I’m relentless about accessibility & inclusive design.

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Emily Cheshire

I’m Emily (she/her) a Lead UX Designer at cinch, I talk about that. Also, I’m relentless about accessibility & inclusive design.