Being a part of the Right People, Right Questions ‘Young People’s Advisory Group’.

By Lucy Power

Before becoming involved in any of the McPin Foundation’s work, I had originally held a position on the NHS Hertfordshire Young Peoples Mental Health Council. I was actively involved in a process which enabled those at the “bottom” (the service user or carer) unlike those in top positions (the clinician and institutional researcher) to have a voice in transforming the way we treat and understand young people’s mental health.

My interest could be mainly attributed to my own personal experience. As a previous CAMHS service user, I know how difficult it can be to battle a mental illness. I can also identify how misunderstood mental health still seems to be within the national healthcare sector, and just how stigmatised it still seems to be within society. There isn’t always enough knowledge about certain conditions or enough research funding to deliver the right information and treatments. Also, people rarely talk about it and just how much of a calamity it is, causing a ‘suffer in silence’ epidemic. This, therefore, makes it incredibly difficult for sufferers and their families to participate in everyday life and it also makes it hard for schools, workplaces, and social institutions to accommodate for the more disadvantaged in our society.

My interest could additionally stem from my understanding that the prevalence of young people’s mental health issues in the UK is on the rise. Over 20% of adolescents experience a mental health problem in any given year [1] and 50% of mental health problems are established by the age of 14, with 75% by the age of 24 [2]. These statistics alone highlight just how important the research we gather about young people’s mental health is. Additionally, the more openly we normalise the discourse surrounding mental health, the easier it will be for people to stand up and get help. The quality of life or hope for a fulfilling future, for ordinary people like I, depend on it.

I was notified about the opportunity to become involved in the McPin’s Foundation’s Young People’s Advisory Group, (YPAG) which is part of the Right People, Right Questions project. I applied for a place on the group and we held our first meeting in February 2017.

The Right People, Right Questions project is a young people’s mental health priority setting partnership. This partnership aims to bring together young people, parents and professionals (like teachers, nurses and psychiatrists) from a diverse range of backgrounds to decide on the top ten unanswered research questions about young people’s mental health. Frequent meetings were held wherein the group worked on a range of different tasks; designing a survey to ask the public which important questions they had, reviewing important decisions, thinking of ways to propagate the project and creating a video which summarised our objectives and encouraged wider involvement. By systematically collecting or ‘bucketing’ the top ten unanswered questions that the public most frequently put forward, we hope to uncover some of the crucial uncertainties that our society faces in relation to young people’s mental health.

In general, being part of the project has been really rewarding and something which I am glad I contributed towards. This is not only because the idea of improving mental health is something I am passionate about, but because it allowed myself and others like me, to have a voice in the important decision making which inherently affects us. Normally, it is a disproportionate and unrepresentative group of people who have most of the say and this does not always guarantee relevant research findings. However, the McPin Foundation’s project, on the contrary, allowed the right people to ask the right questions and hopefully make a progressive change in the way we research young people’s mental health.

[1] 1WHO (2003). Caring for children and adolescents with mental disorders: Setting WHO directions. [online] Geneva: World Health Organization.
[2] 2Kessler RC, Berglund P, Demler O, Jin R, Merikangas KR, Walters EE. (2005). Lifetime Prevalence and Age-of-Onset Distributions of DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62 (6) pp. 593-602.