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Mental Health Tetris

May 2013

I have been thinking about ways to represent various concepts in mental health using simple visual analogies. Recently, I stumbled upon the work of Graphic Patrick who created some clever posters about mental illness which helped spark my own inspiration for a set of visuals using Tetris.

I became a loyal fan of Tetris when I was a kid. I received a Game Boy for my birthday and became totally engrossed with the game. I can still hear the Tetris music playing in my head. This was the best tech toy a kid my age could get for her birthday in the early 90s.

So, when it comes to mental health, I decided to experiment to see how Tetris blocks could help visually convey concepts like depression or anxiety.


While Tetris is a video game, I don’t consider mental health a “game” of sorts -- it's not something you can “win” or “lose” at. Using Tetris as a visual analogy is meant to describe concepts in a playful and accessible way and not intended to minimize the seriousness or depth of disease.


This exploration challenged my own understandings of mental health and hopefully encourages others to think differently too. The decision to position the blocks the way I did here comes from both the way the game is constructed as well as the player experience.

Illustrated are the concepts of recovery, depression, bipolar, ocd, and coping. I’d rather not provide an extensive explanation of each image, rather, I’ll let you interpret it for yourself. I’ve included definitions of each term below for your consideration.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder


  • Recovery is understood as a process in which people living with mental health problems and illnesses are empowered and supported to be actively engaged in their own journey of well-being. The recovery process builds on individual, family, cultural and community strengths and enables people to enjoy a meaningful life in their community while striving to achieve their full potential.” Ref: Toward Recovery & Wellbeing, MHCC

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions). With obsessive-compulsive disorder, you may realize that your obsessions aren’t reasonable, and you may try to ignore them or stop them. But that only increases your distress and anxiety. Ultimately, you feel driven to perform compulsive acts in an effort to ease your stressful feelings.” Ref: Mayo Clinic

  • Bipolar disorder — sometimes called manic-depressive disorder — is associated with mood swings that range from the lows of depression to the highs of mania. When you become depressed, you may feel sad or hopeless and lose interest or pleasure in most activities. When your mood shifts in the other direction, you may feel euphoric and full of energy. Mood shifts may occur only a few times a year, or as often as several times a day. In some cases, bipolar disorder causes symptoms of depression and mania at the same time.” Ref: Mayo Clinic

  • Depression is a medical illness that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Depression can cause physical symptoms, too.” Ref: Mayo Clinic

  • Coping is the process of attempting to manage the demands created by stressful events that are appraised as taxing or exceeding a person’s resources” Ref: Taylor & Stanton

Tags: Tetris, Mental Health, Depression, Recovery, Bipolar, Coping, OCD, Mental Illness

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