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Empathy Quest - Mockup

Empathy Quest

Educational VR game to help family and friends of the birthing parent detect Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMAD) at an early stage



Empathy Quest is an innovative UX Research project that uses virtual reality (VR) to educate the support system of new parents about Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMAD). Through an immersive and interactive decision-based game, it aims to increase awareness, empower users to identify PMAD signs and provide actionable support. The project bridges the knowledge gap and strives to prevent the negative consequences of untreated PMAD, fostering a supportive environment for new parents.


Eli Lilly


08 Months


UX Researcher and Product Designer

Key Contributions
  • Research Planning

  • UX Research

  • Analysis

  • Ideation

  • Co-creation

  • Story Writing

  • Game Design

  • Prototyping

Client Expectations

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PMAD Problem Space

Identify design opportunities to support new moms facing PMAD or similar disorders, focusing on their specific needs and challenges.

Exploration of VR Solutions

Explore VR solutions specifically within the context of PMAD, to determine how they can be effectively used for educational, diagnostic, & treatment interventions


Develop a tangible proof-of-concept that demonstrates the potential usability and effectiveness of the VR solution for addressing PMAD

What are Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs)?

Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders or PMADs are a spectrum of mental health disorders experienced by parents during pregnancy and in the postpartum period.


These disorders can manifest themselves in a variety of forms such as anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, or even psychosis in extreme cases

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1/5 Women & 1/10 Men

experience depression or anxiety during perinatal period

ONLY 25%

are identified and receive treatment

80% Women

experience "baby blues"

Baby Blues > 2 Weeks 

could indicate PMAD


After the initial research and discovery of the problem space, we identified following challenges that need to be rectified to provide a robust support system for birthing parents

  • Lack of awareness and knowledge about Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMAD)

  • Ineffective resources for educating families about PMAD

  • Inability to detect PMAD symptoms at an early stage

  • Difficulty in prioritizing the mental health of the mother amidst the significant life shift experienced by both parents

  • Neglect of the mother's health due to the focus on the new baby

To address these challenges, we formulated our problem statement as follows:

How might we design an engaging VR experience to

  • raise awareness about PMAD,

  • empower the support system of birthing parents,

  • enable early detection and proactive support for the well-being of the birthing parent and baby?


The solution combines immersive VR technology, educational content, decision-making scenarios, and practical resources to create an engaging and impactful experience. It aims to increase awareness, empathy, & effective support for birthing parents facing PMADs.​

Design Process

Design Process of Empathy Quest : An immersive VR Educational Experiences on Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMAD) Detection and Support

Phase 1: Research

Before this project, I wasn't aware of PMAD or any type of perinatal disorder. During this phase, I immersed myself in understanding what PMAD looks and feels like, utilizing all opportunities to expand my domain knowledge, including attending PMAD-related conferences.


At the Labour of Love summit, I met Birdie Meyer (Certification Director, International Trainer at Postpartum Support International) during one of her sessions. I leveraged that opportunity to introduce myself and our project and onboarded her as our 2nd Subject Matter Expert (SME). Through this connection, we got access to PSI’s 2-day workshop “Perinatal Mood Disorders, Components of Care”

Research Goals

How do people become aware of PMADs?

How does PMAD look and feel?

How is PMAD diagnosed and treated?

What support do people need v/s what do they receive?

Research Methods
Desk Research

Employed environmental analysis to grasp the PMAD problem space and identify design opportunities

PMAD Conferences

Labor of Love Summit, 2022

PSI Components of Care

User Interviews

Two moms who have experienced PMAD.

Two Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) with backgrounds in Neonatal Intensive Care (NIC) and PMAD training.

Phase 2: Define

We gathered abundant data from our interviews, and to identify patterns we employed various synthesis methods. These techniques helped us extract valuable insights from the data resulting in a comprehensive affinity map - the brain of our research, flow charts representing individuals involved in the perinatal period, and several other graphical representations.

Affinity Map

Affinity map representing 480+ minutes of user interviews

Intervention Prospects

Intervention Prospects

Key Insights

Educating family and friends

“...wish we had a more formal way of educating families about PMAD...

Close friends and family play a critical role in early detection and support, highlighting the need for standardized education about PMADs for families

Delayed diagnosis - significant hurdle

"...if people around a struggling mom knew what signs to look out for if mom's behavior is not as per normal, it could make a significant difference...

Lack of awareness among family and friends can lead to delayed PMAD diagnosis and increased suffering for the new birthing parent

Normalizing perinatal struggle

“...normalizing postpartum disorders can be very helpful Since most moms do not anticipate these disorders and when things get difficult they think something is wrong with them...

Normalizing PMADs and promoting seeking help can empower new birthing parents to acknowledge their struggles without stigma

People closest to the mom, who understand her regular behavior, can accurately point out anomalous behaviors, so educating them is key

Narrowing the problem space and target audience

Area of Intervention

Referring to the research and after consulting with our subject matter expert, Elizabeth Wertz, we narrowed our focus to "Educating the support system of the birthing parent". This is an area that has the potential to create a significant impact and it remains largely unexplored, lacking real-world solutions to address its challenges.

Area of intervention
Target User

The ideal user is someone close to the birthing parent and possesses a deep understanding to recognize changes

  • A friend or close family member could act as an accountability partner, monitoring the birthing parent's mental well-being

  • They offer a zoomed-out perspective, providing invaluable support during this transformative journey.

Target User

Challenge Encountered
Missing first-hand perspective of the target audience

I brought to my team's attention that although we have narrowed down our target user group to Friends and Family members of the birthing parents, we are missing what their challenges were with respect to the problem space. 

Participatory Design Session

Given our tight deadline and the impending ideation phase, I suggested conducting participatory design sessions.

This approach allowed us to gather firsthand insights from our target audience on initial concepts, efficiently shaping our final idea to better address their needs.

Phase 3: Ideation

Collectively, my teammates and I brainstormed and generated over 30 ideas to address the challenges of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

Here are some sketches from my explorations and contribution to the team's initial pool of ideas: 


Participatory Design Session

We conducted 3 participatory design sessions with friends and spouses of birthing parents. To gather feedback on our ideas, we organized them into four key categories. This categorization allowed participants to easily identify and prioritize the most desired concepts, enabling us to obtain valuable insights for further refinement.

Session Outline
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Key Insights

Realistic language for communication was highlighted essential for effective understanding

Knowing how to talk about the issues, emphasizing the importance of open and supportive discussions

A participant emphasized the significance of complimenting moms, acknowledging their appearance, and sacrifice

Emphasized looking for red flags such as signs of desperation or feeling overwhelmed, & ensuring that birthing parents have time for themselves


Giving free time to birthing parents by taking care of the baby emerged as a crucial aspect of support

Final Direction

We finalized creating a comprehensive tool that educates, trains and supports the family and friends of birthing parents to monitor their mental well-being and take actionable steps toward supporting their loved ones. 


The key elements incorporated into the final concept are as follows:  ​

Final Direction

Due to time constraints, we focused on creating the Educate + Train component first, reserving the Support component for the next phase. This decision prioritizes education, with a decision-based game teaching players to identify PMAD signs and take empathetic actions. 

How does the game work? 

The player observes and learns by interacting with the environment and the virtual mother character and implements the learnings to proceed through the game.  The player receives an informational piece (totem) about PMAD while interacting with the environment. This information is then used to carry out constructive and mindful conversations with the mother character and gain points along the way.  

Sam (Player)

Friend of the birthing parent in the gameplay

Eva (Mom)

Fictitious character who exhibits signs and symptoms of PMAD

Game Elements

Educational aspect which provide insights into the nine steps of wellness

Totem Library

Collected totems are stored in a totem library which can be revisited for revision

Path Choice

Decision making aspect that let's player choose their own adventure in gameplay

Conversation Choice

Practical learning aspect that promotes empathy-focused approach to interact


The player's score reflects their helpfulness to the mother character, gauged by conversation choices. Positive choices raise the gauge by encouraging dialogue and understanding, while negative choices lower it by being dismissive or inappropriate.

Scoring Mechanism

Game Narrative

Our team faced difficulty in reaching a consensus on the narrative of the game. To harmonize these perspectives, I orchestrated a collaborative story-writing session. Within three 15-minute rounds, we harmonized diverse ideas into a cohesive narrative, achieving consensus through collective effort.

Here is the outcome of the collaborative story writing:

Collaborative Storywriting
Narrative Flow

After consulting with our subject matter expect, we picked one segment out of the entire narrative for prototyping.

Narrative Segment

Want to read full narrative with dialogues?

Phase 4: Prototyping

The prototype development process encompassed three distinct segments.


My key contributions were to shape the gameplay environment and create a video that effectively communicated the concept and functionality of the prototype.

Prototype Segments

Let's take a look at Empathy Quest...

Immersive Educational VR Experience

VR provides an engaging, immersive, and interactive learning experience, that fosters empathy and emotional engagement.

We want the players to develop that sense of empathy to eventually identify the signs and symptoms of PMAD, by observing the environment and interacting with the birthing parent.

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9 Steps of Wellness

The VR experience educates users on the 9 steps of wellness, offering actionable steps to support the mental well-being of birthing parents. The game also includes collectible totems as educational components.

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Visual Cues and Decision-Making Scenarios

The game includes visual cues and decision-making scenarios that help users identify signs and symptoms of PMAD, as well as how to handle such cases with empathy.  


The players engage in one-on-one encounters and storytelling in a natural setting with a birthing parent to learn about the challenges of PMAD and prepare in the process.

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Throughout my 8 month's involvement, I delved into an entirely new mental health area - PMADs. Consistent communication with our subject matter expert enhanced my understanding of the problem space, intensifying my empathy for parents navigating childbirth challenges. This project's revelations equipped me to offer meaningful support to my own circle.

Navigating Sensitive Topics

Dealing with a sensitive topic like PMADs required emotional resilience. My team and I learned how to maintain a healthy emotional distance while working on such topics, adopting practices to disengage when needed to ensure our mental well-being remained intact.

Seizing Opportunities

I consistently sought out opportunities to bridge gaps and enhance project dynamics. Notably, during the Labour of Love conference, I engaged with Birdie Meyer bringing her on board as our subject matter expert. This pivotal connection granted us access to the PSI components of the care workshop, directly influencing the development of our core idea to educate about the 9 steps of wellness.

Dynamic Decision-Making

During the project, my adaptability and flexibility were prominent as I guided the team through decision-making conflicts using multiple methods, ensuring effective resolutions and aligning strategies with evolving needs.

A big shoutout to...

  • Elizabeth Wertz - our medical mentor and subject matter expert. It's hard to imagine this project without her expertise and guidance. She was an integral part of our team, providing constant support and instrumental insights to ensure our work was both medically accurate and aligned with our goals. This project wouldn't have been the same without her expertise and feedback.

  • Birdie Meyer for supporting our project amid her tight schedule and giving us the opportunity to attend the PSI components of care 

  • Professor Andrew Miller and Eli Lilly Partners (Malika Mahoui, Danielle Behrens, Tony Major), their encouragement and partnership have played a pivotal role in our journey. Your support has been a driving force behind our accomplishments.

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