“Designers, researchers, and practitioners in digital mental health have a common goal—helping people in distress find relief and live healthier and emotionally vibrant lives.


Creating constructs that truly speak to how an individual subjectively experiences distress can be immensely challenging, with no straightforward answers and limited resources to support individuals in crisis. As a result of colonialism (and its historically propagated power dynamics), the tools and systems that currently exist to address mental distress and illness do not incorporate the diverse ways that people experience distress or support.


In this work, through foregrounding how coloniality has had an influence on how we understand mental distress and illness, we analyzed how current tools—grounded in psychiatry and psychology—end up erasing and invalidating minoritized forms of distress.


We drew specific attention to how social, political, and economic factors have influenced the creation of mental health classifications and treatments, while also erasing Indigenous ways of knowing and healing. Analyzing the presence of colonial classifications and tools in digital mental health tools, we argue that digital mental health maintains these colonial inequities.


We urge HCI researchers to be conscious of these power dynamics when designing digital mental health tools, and to leverage the unique affordances of technology-mediated care to imagine and create more equitable methods of understanding distress and providing care. By doing so, we believe that a decolonial digital mental health could usher in a focus away from intermittent treatment, and towards sustained healing”


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