In the literature and practice of medicine, especially chronic, palliative, and end-of-life care, spirituality and spiritual care are known to be of fundamental importance to patients’ wellbeing. Yet the healthcare institution is ill-equipped to provide affordable and equitable access to sufficient spiritual and mental health care for all patients. With ever-rising rates of mental illness, overdose, and suicide in a world shattered by pandemic, war, and societal fragmentation, what can be done to support the spiritual healing–and moreover thriving–of both individuals and society?
In this talk, Dr. C. Estelle Smith will share a research path toward a more humane future, guided by the principle that sociotechnical systems (e.g., social media, online communities, medical software) should be intentionally designed to support spiritual wellbeing, healing, and connection. Couched within her personal experiences of lifelong mental illness and losing her mother to cancer in 2015, Estelle will synthesize insights from her studies of both existing and prototypical systems for health support, especially focusing on CaringBridge.org (a nonprofit social media platform that offers free health journaling services to over 40 million users annually) and Reddit (an ecosystem of diverse topic-based online communities, with over 50 million users annually). Estelle’s work with CaringBridge provides an empirically-derived definition of spiritual support that can inspire a whole-human centered design approach. She will discuss how approaches from User Interface Design, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, and Data Science offer promising new mechanisms for facilitating spiritual support, focusing on opportunities to: (1) engineer new models of delivery for evidence-based spiritual and mental health care; (2) encourage prosocial behaviors in online spaces where deeply held spiritual values may clash; and (3) augment community assets and capacities for connection and support. By explicitly honoring spirituality in the design of the online systems that now shape our social worlds, Estelle hopes to rebuild a virtual universe that can help humanity transform our collective calamity into collaboration, kindness, and care for all.
Content Warning: Talk includes discussion and personal disclosure of physical and mental illness, suicide, and death/dying.
Postdoctoral Associate at the University of Colorado Boulder in the Department of Information ScienceView Slides
Save the date!
Please join on May 18-19, 2023