Co-designing a response to urgent mental health needs during the COVID-19 pandemic

Beyond Blue – 2020

We partnered with Beyond Blue and people with lived experience of mental health challenges to co-design initiatives in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Together we sought to transform the ways Beyond Blue delivers services, support, advice and information during COVID-19 and beyond.


  • A deeper understanding of how individuals and diverse communities are being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic
  • A series of tangible and practical service concepts that can be immediately actioned
  • A three-year roadmap of initiatives outlining how Beyond Blue can transform its service delivery processes and technology infrastructure to deliver more value to its end users

Responding to mental health needs during a pandemic

COVID-19 is causing new mental health challenges and exacerbating existing ones. As Australia’s most established and trusted source of information and advice on mental health and wellbeing, Beyond Blue recognised these effects but needed a better understanding of people’s diverse experiences to respond effectively.

They urgently needed to understand how to make use of their existing assets and services, identify unmet needs, and adapt and react to them during a pandemic. Additionally, Beyond Blue identified a need to connect and build relationships with people who may not have experienced mental health challenges before.

Two news articles about the negative mental health impacts during the pandemic.

Building trusted relationships through an online co-design process

We spent six weeks listening, learning and facilitating idea generation with thirty community members with lived experience of mental health challenges. We supported the community to imagine new ways Beyond Blue could engage and provide value to them. 

Co-design is a profoundly human process. It relies on real-time, face-to-face, tactile interactions, which are often facilitated via group activities. Conducting such activities remotely requires careful planning and consideration. Given the sensitivity of the subject matter, we needed to ensure that every activity and every conversation was conducted safely, with the necessary clinical support on hand to assist.

Despite the challenges and barriers of remote work, we were able to establish high levels of trust and deep relationships with the community.

Week 3 Co-design Workbook front cover and example of a page called 'Getting Started'

Adaptability, flexibility and accessibility - making remote research work for everyone

We recognised the unique needs of community members and designed a range of ways for people to receive information and engage with the community, based on their circumstances and preferences.

Communications included videos, town hall meetings, written updates and phone check-ins. Activities included individual tasks, group discussions and workshops, all with different ways for people to express their thoughts and ideas. 

The multiple modes of engagement created greater opportunities for people to participate in the community, come back to conversations when they felt ready, and build outcomes collaboratively.

Example of the online platform used for communication with the co-design community featuring intro video from Paper Giant, Acknoledgement of country and week one tasks.
"I loved this whole process. It made me feel valued and heard. The people involved (staff and participants) were all so lovely and it was a nice experience to be amongst it all."

Co-design participant

Viable, deliverable strategies for COVID and beyond

We used a co-design process not only to develop new ideas and strategies, but assess the value and applicability of Beyond Blue’s existing strategies and services. 

We also worked with representatives from the executive, business transformation, clinical support and digital teams at Beyond Blue to  identify inflight projects and initiatives that can be leveraged to respond to the needs and priorities identified through co-design.  We evaluated every idea against the organisation’s strategy, internal capability and capacity and explored potential challenges and implementation risks.

This process resulted in thirteen products and service ideas and a delivery roadmap. Each idea was presented as a detailed concept brief, which included a COVID-specific iteration of the idea as well as future evolutions to broaden its use and reach. Each idea brief included implementation steps, dependencies, risks and other relevant factors critical to successfully executing on the idea.

"This work is core to bringing our 2020 strategy to life."


Using storytelling to build understanding

Alongside the thirteen ideas presented
we crafted the insights into a visual metaphor. We told the story of a community feeling at sea in uncertainty and their need for support to find a safer passage through the storms.  

It gave Beyond Blue a tool to share the insights through their internal channels so the whole organisation could quickly get across the research. It also let the co-design community see their generous contributions represented. 

A lasting impact

We are extremely proud and humbled to have been a trusted partner to the mental health sector during these difficult times.

This project was one of a kind. We engaged in deep and genuine ways with a community of people who were experiencing significant challenges in their lives. This engagement was conducted entirely remotely, and differences in the way people participated was truly embraced.

It was a critical and time-sensitive project for Beyond Blue, who urgently needed to understand the impacts of COVID, create a shared understanding across the organisation, and develop a clear vision and roadmap of work to move forward with.

We believe this work will have a lasting impact for Beyond Blue, the mental health sector and people all across Australia.

Illustration of the Beyond Blue mental health contiuum illustrated as a compass; Healthy, Unsettled, Struggling, Recovering.


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