Designing for Mental Health: Creating User Experiences That Support Well-Being

June 5, 2023

Mental-health disorders that plague the world’s population include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, a variety of eating disorders, and schizophrenia. Perhaps surprisingly, our experiences and interactions on the Internet can haunt our reality and are contributing significantly to some disturbing real-life consequences for people’s mental health. What is the solution to this problem? Careful, conscious, and compassionate user experience design.

A UX designer wields the power to determine how the audience on the other side of the screen feels about their experiences in the digital world. By using the power that technology confers on us responsibly, we can—and should!—create user experiences that support people’s well-being. But designing for mental health is not easy because people’s experiences are subjective.

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The world map shown in Figure 1 depicts the share of the world’s population that had mental-health disorders in 2019.

Figure 1—World’s population with mental-health disorders circa 2019
World's population with mental-health disorders circa 2019

Image source: Our World in Data

But a lot has changed since then—for the worse. The pandemic. Being locked in our homes for months on end. Losing jobs. Losing family and friends. We are currently living in one of the worst times in history from a mental-health perspective.

Current data for 2023 supports the following worldwide statistics:

In addressing the negative impacts that the Internet can have on people’s mental well-being, the following high-level design strategies can come in handy:

  • Combine your knowledge of UX design principles with the understanding you’ve gained through your own experiences as a user.
  • Incorporate feedback from real audience members.
  • Ensure sensitivity to actual users’ needs throughout your design process.

In this article, I’ll provide a roadmap for designing user experiences that support mental health.

10 Strategies for Designing User Experiences That Support Well-Being

A UX designer’s goal is always to design user interfaces and experiences that are user friendly. But focusing on the needs of users who have mental-health issues requires a bit more. You need to create user experiences that are both user friendly and promote the user’s well-being.

Let’s consider ten design strategies that can become your guiding lights when designing for mental well-being.

1. Use calming colors.

Colors can significantly impact people’s moods and emotions. Thus, the color palette that you use for your app or Web site has a strong impact on your audience’s experiences. Calming colors such as blue and green can promote relaxation and reduce stress, while stimulating colors such as orange and red can contribute to users’ stress and, thus, have a negative impact. Snapchat’s white and yellow color scheme and TikTok’s red and orange scheme have often received negative feedback. Of course, glorified portrayals of life online bear greater responsibility for inducing anxiety or depression, but such color schemes undeniably play a role as well.

Designers should conduct research on the impacts of colors on their audiences before finalizing their brand palette.

2. Communicate clearly.

According to a survey, 5.4% of users uninstall apps that they find confusing. The lack of clear, concise communication doesn’t lead just to customer churn but also to frustration and anxiety for users who have mental-health issues.

Consider the error messages in banking apps, for example. Popup messages that are unclear or unhelpful can lead to frustration, anxiety, or confusion, adding to users’ stress—primarily because they immediately associate errors with monetary losses.

Make sure that your app or Web site communicates clearly and avoids adding to users’ stress. By providing clear communications, you can prevent users from struggling and suffering.

3. Create distraction-free designs.

Distractions can contribute to users’ anxiety and reduce their productivity. For example, we know that social-media apps that send too many notifications or send them at inappropriate times disrupt users’ daily routines and cause anxiety and stress.

As UX designers, we should minimize distractions from users’ primary tasks. We can easily remove unnecessary notifications from our designs. Instead, focus on creating uncluttered designs that promote calmness and focus.

4. Deliver gamified gratification.

Habitica is a habit-tracking app that turns habit forming into a game, making its user experience fun and engaging for its audiences. Integrating gamification can help you design user experiences that are both gratifying and support mental well-being. But, remember: don’t go overboard! Add too much gamification and, instead of delivering gratification, you might be giving your audience the jitters and causing anxiety.

5. Ensure inclusive interactions.

Inclusive language can help users feel seen and heard, ultimately, promoting their mental well-being. For example, in Figure 2, notice how Google Docs offers suggestions for gender-neutral writing.

Figure 2—A suggestion regarding gender-neutral writing
A suggestion regarding gender-neutral writing

Image source: Her Circle

Make sure that the copy in your designs is gender neutral, too. This can be as simple as offering non-binary options when collecting user information, as shown in Figures 3 and 4.

Figure 3—Offering non-binary optionsOffering non-binary options

Image source: Cloudinary

Figure 4—An even more flexible way of offering non-binary options
An even more flexible way of offering non-binary options

Image source: Cloudinary

For more information, check out Ruth Dillon’s guide “How to Ask About Gender in Forms Respectfully.”

You should also use diverse imagery and avoid images that propagate stereotypes.

6. Leverage natural nirvana.

Try incorporating natural elements such plants or landscapes into your designs. This can promote a sense of calm and relaxation. As Figure 5 shows, according to the University of Minnesota, nature heals.

Figure 5—The healing effects of nature
The healing effects of nature

Image source: Taking Charge

Forest, a productivity app, provides an example of a product that gets this. The app uses a forest theme that makes users feel calm and helps them to stay focused.

7. Provide possibilities for personalization.

Today, personalization is a crucial aspect of UX design, and it can offer significant benefits for the user’s mental health, too. By tailoring experiences to users’ preferences, designers can help them feel in control. A feeling of agency and ownership over their experience can boost their sense well-being and lead to increased feelings of satisfaction and fulfillment, ultimately improving their mental health.

One example of a product that gets this right is Spotify, which lets users customize their playlists and discover new music based on their preferences. The simple label My Playlist on Spotify can make people feel more in control and, thus, ultimately promotes their mental well-being.

8. Give reassuring responses.

Some apps and platforms provide too much negative feedback or criticize users’ progress as a means of negative reinforcement. This can lead to users’ feeling inadequate and frustrated, which can be particularly harmful to those who have low self-esteem or other feelings of inadequacy. In contrast, positive feedback can boost users’ self-esteem, while at the same time encouraging them to continue using a product.

The language-learning app Duolingo really gets the concept of providing reassuring responses. As Figure 6 shows, it provides encouraging feedback to users as they progress through lessons. This provides a delightful experience for users.

Figure 6—Positive feedback
Positive feedback

Image source: Business Insider

But again, be wary about going overboard. Duolingo’s extreme focus on maintaining learning streaks can make people anxious. As Figure 7 shows, many Redditers have even called out Duolingo for doing this.

Figure 7—Calling out Duolingo for producing anxiety
Calling out Duolingo for producing anxiety

Image source: Business Insider

Read the complete thread on Reddit.

9. Utilize soothing simplicity.

Many apps and Web sites use high-pressure sales tactics such as countdown timers and limited-time offers. But these can cause users to feel rushed, anxious, or pressured into making a purchase.

Even an overly complex user interface can cause anxiety and confusion in users. To reduce anxiety, it is important to simplify user interfaces as much as possible. In this way, designers can make it easier for users to navigate and use digital products. As Figure 8 shows, an example of getting this right is the Apple homepage, which has a simple, clean design that is easy to use.

Figure 8—Apple’s homepage—a model of simplicity
Apple's homepage—a model of simplicity

10. Offer a support suite.

Providing users with access to support resources can be especially important for those with mental-health issues. But just offering support is not enough. Weave support into your Web site in a manner that makes it easily accessible.

Plus, it is best to offer multiple support channels to your users. Phone anxiety, also known as telephonophobia, is real. The conversations on support calls can trigger people and make them anxious. So it is best to let people choose whether they want to get support through a phone call, an email message, texts, or from a chatbot.

Another best practice is to make self-service resources available such as knowledge bases, FAQs, tutorials, and visual guides. The availability of these resources can make people feel more at ease and prevent them from experiencing the anxiety that personal interactions can trigger in some.


Now that you have this guidance on designing for mental health, you need to take charge and create user experiences that support users’ well-being.

Don’t make using the Internet a triggering experience for those with mental-health issues. The online world is a shared space, and we must design digital experiences that support everyone’s well-being. 

Founder of SeekThem

Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India

Nevilson ChristianNevilson founded SeekThem, a creative design and branding agency. With his passion for design, he has established his company as a leader in branding solutions. Over the years, the company has helped numerous clients develop a strong, consistent brand identity, and Nevilson continues to lead the team in delivering exceptional results.  Read More

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