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Youth-Led Squad Research Mental Health in Nottingham

19 June 18 words: Rosie Gough

The lowdown on how Nottingham could improve mental health services, according to a member of the youth-led research squad that carried out project MH:2K...

Early October, I received an email from college detailing an opportunity for 14-25 year olds in Nottinghamshire to join a youth-led project on mental health. MH:2K, as the project was coined, aimed to identify the issues surrounding mental health that their young Citizen Researchers believed the most important. Following this, we discussed and explored these issues at roadshows with various groups of peers, including schools, youth groups, NHS service users and LGBTQ+ groups. Finally, based on the feedback we received, we worked with local decision makers to finalise recommendations for change.

The sheer volume of young people struggling with mental health issues is overwhelming, with 75% of mental illnesses starting before a child reaches their eighteenth birthday. MH:2K offered the opportunity for young people to genuinely make an impact on the mental health services they need, whether they were preventative or regarding treatments.

The project finally gave a voice to those who needed it most, and will hopefully help revolutionise young people’s mental health services as a result. It was a privilege to be able to make a contribution, particularly as we were working directly with Lucy Peel, Programme Leader for Children and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing at Nottinghamshire County Council, as our recommendations were reported directly to those who had the authority to implement them.

During the first meeting of the 29 newly recruited Citizen Researchers, we decided on the themes: stigma and public awareness; treatment and therapies; education and prevention; cultures, genders and minorities; and family, friends and carers. The next step was to create the content for the roadshows. This usually included a brief presentation explaining what the particular issue was about, before opening up the event to conversation, either as one collective dialogue or in smaller groups.

Crucially, to end the roadshows, each person participating would fill out a sheet which asked for their personal recommendation to help improve young people’s mental health services. Over just three months, through thirty events at fifteen different organisations, the MH:2K roadshows reached 647 young people, smashing the original target of 500.

The youth are a mighty force. We are the future of this society, and we are desperate to shape it into a better place.

Due to the extensive reach of the roadshows, we were able to identify the most pressing issues, along with practical recommendations to resolve them. There was a clear gap in the awareness of mental health among young people and a shortage of training in schools and of professionals. In order to combat this, MH:2K proposed compulsory education on mental health from a young age and training for teachers and parents in how to support young people. This should include regular parent talks on mental health hosted by schools and colleges.

There’s also a lack of understanding that mental health affects everybody, including young males in all cultural, religious and ethnic groups. By targeting these groups and cultural spaces, organisations such as MH:2K can help promote knowledge and awareness. The process also highlighted the barriers encountered when accessing services such as waiting times, duration of treatment and opening hours. To improve these services, a 24/7 helpline, drop-in sessions, and use of flexible staff to cover areas of high demand was suggested.

As well as that, the increased inclusion of young people when training professionals and educating teachers would help to build effective communication between young people and experts. Finally, a lack of privacy when using services was identified, particularly in schools. By emailing the information of support available to students and setting up an online booking system to make appointments for school councillors, young people may be more willing and able to access support.

These findings were presented to key stakeholders at the MH:2K showcase and following this, a local advisory panel of local decision-makers and stakeholders will discuss the next steps for MH:2K, and the implementation of recommendations. Getting the opportunity to have a conversation about realistic improvements that could be made in mental health services, with the people who could make these changes, was amazing. I cannot wait to see what difference MH:2K will inspire.

Three things to remember:

You are never too young or unqualified to help make a difference. Every single young person we reached with MH:2K contributed to the overall recommendations, therefore helping to improve the services offered to young people.

The youth are a mighty force. We are the future of this society, and we are desperate to shape it into a better place.

There are so many people desperate to help revolutionise young people’s mental health services, and surely, if we work together and keep initiating dialogue between organisations and young people alike, we can smash it.

MH:2K website 

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