Young People Rethinking Mental Health Conference
by Naomi Clewett
A few of us from McPin attended the Young People ReThinking Mental Health event last week run by the Clinical Research Network: Mental Health. It was held at the British Library – a great venue in spaces that are both thought provoking and relaxing. This is important for a conference addressing youth mental health research. It was a really engaging event showcasing how young people can be involved in mental health research as active advisors and shapers of that research, rather than merely as participants. The advisory group is made up of 16-24 year olds, about 15 people, all with experience of mental health problems or experience as a caregiver. It was great to see them leading many of the sessions, and their planning of the event lead to many creative and interactive slots challenging traditional thinking. For example, a debate with pairs of young people and seasoned debaters, an interview led by young people on the psychiatrist’s couch with eminent practitioners and academics, and a quiz on mental health research – did you know that only 5.5% of UK research funding is dedicated to mental health? And further, for every £1 spent on mental health research by the government, only 0.3p is donated by the public – compare this to cancer research where the public spend £2.75 for every £1 of government money and you can really see the disparity.
In part the event was showcasing the work of the Young People’s Mental Health Advisory Group, who have been involved in advising numerous research studies now, asking challenging questions of researchers and helping to shape proposals, participant information sheets, recruitment plans and dissemination methods. I attended one of the group’s meetings in September 2014 looking for a young people’s perspective on interpreting data from our Time to Change young people’s evaluation. The group were articulate and engaged; challenging the assumption often made that involving young people in research in a meaningful way is difficult. It was such a useful session for us. The young people provided some very useful feedback which helped to shape our final coding framework.
Although there is increasing recognition of the importance of public involvement in research, and the role that this can have in shaping all aspects of the research process, people often overlook the contributions that young people can make. There are challenges to involving young people which: how to engage young people in a process that may seem cumbersome and boring, how to communicate and arrange meetings outside of school hours, and how to tackle the issue of pay. However, these challenges must be answered in creative ways if we want to harness the benefits of the young people’s perspective on the work we are doing. And if we are willing to create these new ways of working there should be no reason why young people, just as adults, cannot make meaningful contributions to all stages of the research process. In fact, our research with young people would be lacking if we did not ask for their perspective.
Our own young Evaluation Advisors made up of young people with personal and caring experience of mental health problems, have been feeding in to our Time to Change young people’s evaluation at every stage. We have used meetings to ask the group’s advice on recruitment and retention strategies, interview schedules and questionnaires, participant information sheets, ethical questions, feeding into coding frameworks and interpreting interview and questionnaire data during analysis. Without this input we would have missed valuable insights into the meaning of data from young people’s perspective. Now that we are nearing the end of the project we hope to harness their creativity and insight to begin to develop ways to disseminate our findings that are relevant to young people. We hope their expertise should help make our research more accessible to them.
The event last week was a timely reminder that as researchers we should challenge ourselves more and reflect how we can better move beyond tokenistic ‘involvement’ with young people to use their expertise to make our research more effective and relevant. I hope the rest of the audience also came away with new ideas and enthusiasm for doing this. The Young People’s Mental Health Advisory Group is one excellent resource for ensuring researchers can easily access the young peoples’ perspective. We should also ask ourselves how we can continue to involve young people meaningfully throughout our research projects.
Contact details for Clinical Research Network: Mental Health young people advisory group – firstname.lastname@example.org