Headtrip: Hearing depression

If someone close to you is struggling with their mental health, it can be hard for them to express what’s going on. It can also be hard, as a friend or colleague, to know what to do to help. Through Headtrip we aim to help close this gap. We convene and creatively share lived experiences, with the aim of building empathy and compassion for mental illness and support for mental health.


In 2017 the Headtrip project team started by researching whether 3D binaural audio might be beneficial in changing attitudes and behaviours, building empathy and reducing the stigma that surrounds depression. This phase was a collaboration between King’s College London’s Department of Health Services & Population Research and S.I.D.E Projects, brokered and supported by the Cultural Institute at King’s and can also be found here on the King’s website.

The result…

We produced Headtrip: hearing depression – a 10-minute audio journey, co-created and based on nine people’s lived experience of depression (the audio and guidance is available below ). The process included:

  • A number of co-creation workshops and focus groups with our nine participants, to understand the lived-experience from different perspectives.
  • Scripting these experiences and working with an actor to play them out, using binaural recording.
  • Working with a our participants and partners to edit the experience into a 10-min piece that everyone felt was reflective of their experiences.
  • Running three listening and discussion events, to gather feedback and evaluate the experience on different audiences – including the public, medical students and front line workers.

What did this tell us?

We received incredibly positive and constructive feedback, as well as messages of gratitude, support and encouragement:

‘This is a very moving recording which captures my own experience of mental illness perfectly. I would warn others that it can be overwhelming, however it was also comforting to know that I am not alone in having these thoughts. I wish everyone who doesn’t struggle with their mental health could listen and experience this. I also feel there is great opportunity to use this approach to address other conditions’.

(Lots more feedback below).

So what next …

We are exploring ways to continue this work, including:

  • Ongoing conversations with King’s College London, resulting in Headtrip now being incorporated into their Basic Mental Health training for medical students.
  • Sharing the audio experience and facilitating discussions at a number of events and conferences, including as This Can Happen in November 2018.

But we do need support …

We are exploring several partnerships, with a view to sharing the existing audio more widely, as well as developing other tools. If you have ideas or would like to support this work please do get in touch, we would love to hear from you.


Feedback from listeners and co-creators includes…

Thank you for starting a revolution.

I was becalmed. All my frustrations and anxieties left me. Insight was gained, depression relieved.

This was so close to my own experience of depression, it was a bit full-on but also too important to turn off. It helps to hear that others have been through what I’ve been through.

 From a Hospitality industry perspective, I think this is a hugely valuable tool, offering real insight into the kinds of chaotic thoughts and isolation that an individual suffering with their mental health can experience. It was invaluable in terms of understanding and recognising possible signs of hopelessness that could otherwise go under the radar.

The back-story of collaboration is equally compelling as the final output. Keep Going!

It’s made me want to have a conversation with my boyfriend [who has depression] – and realised that social relations are central to all this.

It was surprisingly accurate. I felt it was very familiar and it left me feeling a bit sad.

I felt like I have just been on a journey but I don’t feel drained or down by it. I also had an interesting ASMR – type sensations / reactions – a tingling across my forehead.

Curious as to the degree to which this is how some people experience the world. I have had low moments, and been disappointed with myself – but was very aware of this person’s extreme self-loathing.

It has made me feel more sympathetic and patient towards my own and others problems with depression. Hearing another person’s struggle without having to participate with them allowed a detached and free thinking understanding of the subject.

Somehow it feels ok now to admit to being a sufferer!

It has just reinforced the things I know or have experienced with friends.

It left me with a lot of questions about depression and the experience of it.

I felt obliged to be less judgmental towards others as I could feel how sad and lonely it was to suffer from depression.

I could identify with how all-consuming depression can be, how difficult it can be for the individual / others in my life. To let others in your life help you.


Listening to Headtrip: hearing depression…

We are temporarily sharing the Headtrip audio online to assist us with ongoing research. (Please note Headtrip is not open access and can not be used for commercial purposes).

Before you listen, we recommend that you use a good pair of headphones and find a quiet space. Ideally wear an eye mask or close your eyes to minimise distraction.

The Headtrip audio is based on real people’s lived experiences of depression and might be emotionally intense for some people. In the explicit version includes strong language. Headtrip may not be appropriate for people who are under the age of 16 or struggling with their mental health.

Headtrip Explicit version - click link

Headtrip Clean version - click link

After listening we would value your feedback via this online feedback form.

Although you can listen to Headtrip via the link, we do recommend the experience is used in a training or discussion scenario, facilitated by us for you:

Our facilitated discussion can be tailored to your needs. In the past we have used the following structure:

Before listening…

We welcome, introduce and give the background to the project.
We then provide listeners with eye masks and headsets., letting them know that they can switch off at any point.

With eye masks on we ask participants to consider how we might all be listening into our different world view filters – for example, from a professional, cultural or experiential perspective. We call this already listening, and invite listeners to let go of their filters for the session.

We then encourage everyone to listen openly with: Curiosity, Courage, Compassion and without judgement.

To help centre the listener we conduct a brief ‘mindful pause’ exercise:
a. Pause for 10-15 seconds.
b. Feel the fullness of each inhale and each exhale

We then conduct the listening session, with blindfolds on…

After listening …

We ask participants to leave their blindfolds on and we conduct a second Mindful Pause (as above) this time with a physical check exercise – helping participants to consider ‘how the experience has landed’

a. Blindfolds stay on
b. Feel the fullness of each inhale and each exhale.
c. Hand on heart (feel heart beat, has it sped up)
d. Note any other physical sensations / your posture.
e. Consider how you listened, were there and cultural, professional, developmental triggers going off for you?

We ask everyone to then remove their blindfolds and facilitate a discussion, depending on the audience, this might include prompts such as:

  • Your feelings towards the male voice?
  • Your feelings towards the female voice?
  • Feelings towards yourself / others in your life?
  • What can we – friends, colleagues, family members – do to help or comfort someone who is struggling with their mental health?
  • What professional help is there out there? How can we all help make sure this is accessed?

Project team…

Rebecca Hatchett, director of S.I.D.E Projects, brought to the team her background in arts education, engagement and service design, as well as mental health first aid, person-centred counselling and safeguarding training. Her role on this project was to lead the consortium through the research, co-creation and evaluation phases, as well as contribute to the creative development of the audio.

Lucia Scazzocchio is our audio and creative producer. Lucia is specialised in what she calls ‘Social Broadcasting’ using the power of audio to retell and reimagine personal stories and social conversations for a fresh transmission of contemporary narratives. As well as producing the final audio, Lucia contributed to the co-creation and evaluation phases.

Ella Saltmarshe specialises in using creativity to produce social impact at scale. She is the co-founder of The Point People, The Comms Lab & #SHEvotes. In this project she is combining her experience as a scriptwriter and her experience of service design in the field of mental health.

Prof Ricardo Araya King’s College London Professor of Global Mental Health partnered on the first phase with King’s College London. Ricardo’s research interests include the aetiology of common mental disorders, inequalities and their link to the mental health of populations with special emphasis on international comparisons, and effective treatments for common mental disorders, such as simple and brief interventions using non-medical workers and strong community participation.

As well as this more professional experience, every one on the team has their own personal mental health related experiences that they bring to the project.