Integrated Human Practice
We have conducted multiple human practice activities to show the world our meaningful project, and gain feedback from them to improve our original research.
Interview with local high school students
On June 16th, 2021, the dry lab went to the Shanghai Hongrun Boyuan School to investigate high school student's understanding of major depressive disorder (MDD), and attitude towards depression and its treatment. By interviewing sixteen high school students and one teacher, the dry lab gained insights into the public's attitude toward depression, especially teenagers.
The executive director of the school, Miss Ma, has over ten years of experience in education. Although she is not a professional psychological counselor, the students often reach out to her. According to Ms. Ma, students are usually diagnosed with mild depression because of sudden trauma or accumulated pressure. She also believes that finding a therapist and applying other soft treatments is necessary. From her experiences, she thinks that there is a lack of attention from society to depression and that parents have a severe bias towards kids having MDD, especially older parents, due to their own life experiences. She also mentioned students with depression have excessive physical malaise but are not just mentally depressed. Since her interview, we created a Wechat official account to raise public awareness by introducing the causes of depression. In addition, we planned a presentation in the elderly community to eliminate the biases and educate the elderly.
The sixteen students we interviewed had studied AP psychology before; therefore, they understand depression. Half of the students have biases toward people who suffer from depression, while the other half believe they should be appropriately treated. They believe the rise of awareness of depression is beneficial for every individual. Nearly all the students believe going to therapists and taking pills are equally important. However, they realize the severe side effects of the existing medicines. A rising sophomore claimed that "[He] won't take the pills if there is another option." Many believe there are few choices in the market for mild depression. More importantly, many available drugs have side effects that cause the students to be tentative about taking medicine.
Their response toward pills encouraged us to change how we present our product. Initially, we wanted to produce pill tablets for our final projects. We aim to deliver our products as candies to the public to reduce the shame and stress of taking pills.
Interview with Professor Guoqing Wang from Shanghai Jiao Tong University
We also interviewed professor Wang from SJTU(Shanghai Jiao Tong University), who has 20 years of experience in counseling. We discussed the common mental health issues that college students struggle with, the common misconception about psychiatrists, and the influence of social media on depression.
Professor Wang mentioned the increasingly high demand for psychiatrists in China in contrast with the low supply. This lack of professionals in the field caused many people to have the wrong stereotype regarding psychiatrists. Patients usually expect a long, thorough talk with a doctor. However, this field's high demands and low supply compels counselors to meet with over twenty patients in one morning, taking 5-10 minutes with each one. The differences in expectations from the patients and reality when talking to experienced psychiatrists inspired us to post an article to educate and spread information about the actual diagnostic experience. With the field developing, there are also many unreliable organizations emerging, making the area disorganized. This absence of resources in dealing with mild depression also reveals a market for our products.
Other than the lack of resources, professor Wang also reveals that sometimes social media misleads students by exaggerating anxiety and depression, using it as a selling point instead of spreading scientific facts. This exaggeration for business benefit hinders students from truly understanding mental health and leads to wrong choices when dealing with mental health issues. She also gave a few examples of students' experiences with trusting unreliable internet resources that eventually lead to financial loss. Understanding this phenomenon, we decided to educate the public through social media postings.
Interview with Dr. Qingli Li
Dr. Qingli Li started working in mental health in 1995, having over 20 years of experience with patience. She works at Anshan Mental Health Center with a specialization in diagnosing mental health across all ages. Professor Li mainly talked about the unknown causes of depression, and nowadays, scientists tackle this problem from different areas of study. For example, she mentions the recent popular topic Brain-Gut axis, which connects the digestive system and mental health. She also believes that the subsequent possible treatment would be related to bacterias in the digestive system. This direction is also related to our topic. After introducing our research direction, she believes that it is a very new topic with many potentials. However, she is unsure whether our developed products can be stored in a candy form as we envisioned. After the interview, we decided to communicate with the wet lab to ensure the proper temperature for storing our products and asking more experts regarding how our products should be presented.
Interview with Dr. Qingzhuo Wang
We interviewed Dr.Wang, an expert in synthetic biology (Ph.D.Chinese Academy of Sciences, Postdoctoral Researcher, Nanjing Normal University. Dr. Wang worked in the field for over nine years in prestigious institutions such as the Chinese Academy of Science. We talked about our project and asked for suggestions from Dr. Wang. We learned a lot regarding biochemistry, the current market for our products, and some possible future development of synthetic biology. After telling Dr. Wang our vision of making our final products into candies, he informed us about the current challenges and offered suggestions. For example, most probiotics will be lost, and few will be absorbed if people consume them in candies. He also mentioned that the legislation would be strict regarding this new development since there are no genetically edited supplements in the market. He also suggested that Dr. Wang suggested that we come up with different methods for preserving the protists. After the interview, we hoped to interview food experts to decide on the final form. We also plan to add more of our final plasmid into our final products to reach the optimal outcome, trying to balance the effect and the appearance of our product.
Interview with General Manager of HINICHIJOU
HINICHIJOU is a cafe that is dedicated to providing a workplace for people with disabilities. With its unique setup and presentation, it gained wide support from the public, with hundreds of guests every day. Their popularity even attracted the attention of CCTV. On June 22, we interviewed the general manager of HINICHIJOU to consult about marketing and product presentation. During the interview, we talked about the motivation and promotion for HINICHIJOU. The main channel of advertising is social media. The general manager emphasized the importance of the quality of products. By sustaining a high quality of drinks, HINICHIJOU can maintain its popularity.
Since HINICHIJOU specializes in coffee, we asked the general manager whether putting our products in drinks would be a good idea. The general manager states that our supplement might not suit drinks since the regulation is too complicated. She also mentioned that the general public usually wants drinks to be tasting instead of supplementary uses. Therefore, we decided to continue with our ideas about candies and focus on developing our candies' tastes. The general manager also states that there are more ways to promote mental health awareness. In addition, she suggests helping people with depression through indirect methods also makes an impact on society.
We have developed 2 questionnaires to get feedback from the public about multiple topics.
Online questionnaire 1 (public beliefs regarding depression)
To understand public beliefs regarding depression, we developed an online questionnaire. The questionnaire was self-administered and distributed to the public through social media. The questionnaire was divided into four parts: demographics (age, gender, and occupation), experience with depression, perceptions of depression, and willingness to buy our proposed antidepressant product. A total of 244 people completed the questionnaire. There were 78 males, 164 females, and 2 non-binaries. Table 1 presents the respondents’ age and occupation information.
The survey shows that most people (68%) know someone around them who has depression (Figure 1). Yet 64% of them do not think they understand depression (Figure 2). The survey also demonstrates that most people receive information regarding depression from news and social media (Figure 3). The results indicate that formal education about depression is needed, and the public should know more about depression.
Based on Yokoya et al.’s study, we developed the survey questions below. While most participants seem to understand that anyone can get depression, even someone optimistic, a decent amount of participants tended to believe that a person with a fragile personality is more likely to be depressed, which presented a prejudice in the society (Figure 4). Furthermore, when participants were asked about the effectiveness of depression-related medications, most of them picked neutral (Figure 4). We also brought up whether depression can be cured through self-regulation, and most participants either disagree or strongly disagree (Figure 4). From the information provided by the participants, a few things can be concluded: (1) Society believes depression resembles weakness. (2) People do understand that anyone can get depression. (3) People only have vague ideas about the effectiveness of antidepressant medications.
Figure 4. * = appropriate beliefs
Yokoya, S., Maeno, T., Sakamoto, N., Goto, R., & Maeno, T. (2018, March). A Brief Survey of Public Knowledge and Stigma Towards Depression. Journal of clinical medicine research. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5798266/.
Online questionnaire 2
This survey focuses more on our product rather than depression’s relationship to society. The sample size of this survey is 125. The sample consisted of 49 male participants and 76 female participants ranging in age from 14-82 years old (M = 29.195, SD = 9.327).
According to the data we collected from the survey, 70% agreed that antidepressant supplements would improve depression in society (Figure 5). Furthermore, we also found that 74% of the participants will buy an antidepressant supplement. (Figure 6). These data have well demonstrated that most of the population is willing to try antidepressant supplements, and there is a promising future for our product.
While designing the survey, we decided to include some questions that would reflect peoples’ feelings for depression in today’s society, and the result is quite evened out. We found out that people were not ashamed to see a psychologist. (Figure 7).
When participants were asked whether they would be uncomfortable if they knew that they took antidepressants, they stated that they would be uncomfortable (Figure 7). Finally, when participants were asked to give their opinion on whether antidepressants need improvements, most said yes (Figure 7). Through this figure, a few conclusions can be drawn.
People seem to believe that psychological treatments are effective, and they are not afraid of being seen by a psychologist. This displays a positive change in the society and that people are starting to lift the conventional biases about mental illnesses. However, the data reflects that society is uncertain about the effects of antidepressants and is scared of it. Therefore, we believe our product will succeed since our antidepressant supplement is safer, which is a huge advantage when comparing supplements to medications.
Aiming to optimize the satisfaction of our customers, we designed the last two questions of our survey to be relevant to our product. Candy was the most accepted form of supplement, with 61% of the participants voting for it (Figure 8). As for the most appropriate price for our product, the majority of the people decided on a price between 50 and 100 yuan (Figure 9).
Overall, we believe that our product will be an alternative to antidepressants.
WeChat Official Accounts
In order to spread awareness and deconstruct bias on depression, we created an official account on WeChat. We posted self-written articles about the biological and psychological mechanisms behind the disorder. We pointed out current public biases and stereotypes on depression, described it from a scientific standpoint, and explained the factors that lead to it. Using anecdotes, diagrams, pictures, and colorful layout in each article, we provided engaging and informational content that educates the public on different facets of this mental illness.
In another article on our WeChat channel, we introduced to our readers the concept of synthetic biology, including some related technologies such as gel electrophoresis, PCR, and CRISPR. This article aims to educate our readers and engage them in our research process. Synthetic biology is a field of science full of potential. Inventions and studies can be applied to various areas, solving some serious problems we are facing now. We also provided an analysis on the principle of synthetic biology about how it cures disease and can therefore bring a massive leap to human studies in science, even if we only have a basic level of experiments and exploration in this field.
Each member of the LightHouse team then shared the articles and official accounts through Moments and direct messages to friends and family. As a result, we were able to gain over 4000 reads on our first article alone, indicating a good accomplishment in our goal to raise more awareness.