CEC WEEKLY TIES – Puffins and World Mental Health Day

Dear colleagues, 

Saturday Oct. 10 is World Mental Health Day. One of the most touching stories I have read lately comes from the efforts of ornithologist Stephen Kress to bring the puffin back to Maine. Kress theory was that if his team could transplant puffin chicks to Eastern Egg Rock and hand rear them, the birds would create a mental map of the island’s location and return there to nest after going out to sea. For four years however, none of the birds returned to the island to breed. That is when Kress recognized the need to “think like a puffin.” Puffins nest in colonies because they like being with others of their kind and large groups provide protection from predators. Even if young puffins remembered the island, they were “too timid” to come ashore. He came up with the idea to place wooden decoys of puffins around the island and help the birds feel safe. It worked! And now, Project Puffin has around 1,300 pairs nesting on islands in the Gulf of Maine and this technique is used by seabird conservationists around the world. 

The puffins teach us the power of relatedness and how we have to see ourselves in others to be able to live healthy and connected lives in which everyone can thrive. Below are two examples of what it means to see the world through the eyes of a child with OCD and an immigrant Mexican mother. Both stories point to the multiple ways through which the built environment can support or hinder mental health. 

Tasoulla Hadjiyanni, Editor
[email protected]

Image credit: Tasoulla Hadjiyanni


Girl Spending The Time Alone

Understanding of the ways by which environmental parameters intersect with daily living for children with mental health challenges is currently limited. In a study funded by the National Science Foundation, the University of Minnesota’s College of Design, the Department of Psychiatry, and the College of Science and Engineering* used video recordings in a laboratory setting to unravel how children with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) relate to everyday interior elements, such as tables, sinks, and rugs.

In the Free Arrangement task (pictured), we turned our attention to a table top to better understand how children’s behavior relates to furniture. Participants were seated on a chair by a table and provided with a box of school supplies, e.g., markers, tape, pencils, glue sticks, etc., and instructed to arrange the objects on the table in any way they chose. Intriguing was the finding that youths with OCD compared with controls were significantly more likely to use a smaller amount of space in completing the free arrangement task.

Recognizing that the physical and spatial territories of youths with OCD are significantly constrained can expand treatment and diagnostic approaches as well as inform the development of design interventions that aid children in expanding their spatial usage.

* Team members from the Department of Psychiatry include Dr. Gail A. Bernstein and Dr. Kathryn R. Cullen; team members from the Department of Computer Science & Engineering from the College of Science & Engineering include Dr. Vassilios Morellas and Dr. Nikolaos Papanikolopoulos; and team members from the College of Design include Dr. Julia Robinson and Dr. Tasoulla Hadjiyanni. For the full paper see here.
 Image credit: Tasoulla Hadjiyanni


Spatiality And Loneliness Among Immigrants

“Numerous studies have identified loneliness as a common symptom for Mexican immigrant women who have been separated from loved ones, friends, and their culture as they knew it (Clark, 2001; Guendelman, Malin, Herr-Harthorn & Vargas, 2001; Melville, 1978). Those who experienced the most severe loneliness were stay-at-home moms, women who did not live close to family or friends, women who did not have reliable transportation, and those who could not speak English, leaving them feeling inferior and dependent on others. Depressive symptoms have been shown to only increase with years of residency (Vega & Lopez, 2001). Latinos are noted for being at the greatest disadvantage “to have a persistently high depressive symptoms trajectory” (Liang et al., 2011, p.773). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2010), Hispanics (4.0 percent), along with non-Hispanic Blacks (4.0 percent) and non-Hispanic persons of other races (4.3 percent) were significantly more likely to report major depression than non-Hispanic Whites (3.1 percent)………

Josefina placed the small figurine of the Virgin on a loudspeaker, right next to the television set in the family’s living room. Semi-hidden, the arrangement blended the multiple cultural foundations that defined this woman’s identity and structured Josephina’s free time—religion, family, language, and music. Set against the living room’s main exterior wall, the entertainment center emanated and spread Mexicanness to the whole interior space while keeping the exterior “culture-less,” a way to belong in a suburban community where it was hard to get to know the neighbors. Red crochet doilies created a base for the Virgin, the manmade and the spiritual intermingling. The scent of a white candle next to the Virgin that was lit on special occasions to thank the Virgin enhanced the sensory experience of connecting to the divine. The flame lifted the family’s prayers upwards while the candle’s warmth reassured them of the protective powers of God.”

 Excerpt from The Right to Home – Chapter 5 – Mexican Stories, p. 158
 Image credit: Tasoulla Hadjiyanni

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