Involving young people in research – why it matters

This week we released our second Right People, Right Questions national survey looking at the top ten questions people think are most important for researchers to answer about young people’s mental health. Rachel Temple reflects on the importance of making sure the views of young people are heard and on how McPin is making sure young people help shape this research project.






In today’s society, everyone knows someone, who knows someone that experiences mental health difficulties. Given that three in four mental health problems are established during childhood it’s possible that ‘someone is a young person.

We are starting to see an emphasis on young people‘s mental health: The increase of mental health referrals in schools. The benefits of counselling in school settings. It makes sense that we would approach the problem as early as possible. You certainly wouldn’t wait for an infection to spread before treating it.

Projects like ‘Right People, Right Questions’ are important because they address the needs of young people. It asks those aged 11-25, as well as parents, carers, teachers and mental health professionals, what our mental health priorities should be. What should we research about children and young people’s mental health? Where is change needed the most? We offer young people a voice in this project. The results will reflect what they think needs to change.

Having worked in a young people’s mental health inpatient unit, as well as experiencing mental health difficulties myself, this project feels somewhat personal. I have seen why change is needed so desperately. Suicide is the biggest cause of death for young people in the UK. Facts like this cannot simply be brushed under the carpet- it’s everyone’s responsibility to act.

As researchers, it can be easy to assume that we are mirroring the best interests of young people, despite not explicitly involving them in our work.

As a support worker for young people on a mental health inpatient unit, it was easy to make this assumption as well. I quickly learned that young people are not always included in decisions surrounding their own care. They might wake up to learn that they are no longer visiting a relative that they’d been excited to see. Or, they might be considered ‘too unsettled’ to attend therapy, despite repeatedly requesting it. Experiences like these would result in resentment towards services and further problems along the road. The ‘we know best’ approach remains very much intact within children’s services, and it’s a real problem. It drives a wedge between the young people and the service that seeks to support them. Ultimately, this can lead to an increased time spent within that service- a slower rate of recovery.

If my experiences have taught me anything, it’s that no one wants to be ‘told’ which treatment plan they will receive. This seems obvious. Young people need to be directly involved with decisions made about them.

The same issue applies to research. We can’t possibly make discoveries that have real impact without listening to, and collaborating with the people who will be affected by those decisions. In other words, if we are researching young people, then we need to work with young people!

The way in which we involve young people needs to be meaningful. It needs to extend beyond meeting attendance. It needs to be more than tokenism.

We have embraced this message throughout our project Right People, Right Questions. We don’t just involve our Young People’s Advisory Group (YPAG). We work alongside them. They shape the decisions that we make, from social media content, to creating and analysing research questions. Their input is not restricted to merely ticking the right boxes. It stretches to key aspects of this work and makes a noticeable difference, which is essentially what meaningful involvement is all about.

Within the mental health world, young people are starting to be more involved in decisions made about them. Efforts are being made to balance the scales, so that voices are not just being heard- they are being listened to. The outcome of our project will contribute to this, and I hope that people seize the opportunity to be a part of it!

The Right People, Right Questions national survey about young people’s mental health is now live. To take part, please click this link. The survey asks you which top ten questions you think are most important for researchers to answer. It will only take fifteen minutes to complete. The survey will be closing in three weeks so don’t miss out on your opportunity to help reshape children and young people’s mental health!