Agency, Social Identity & Justice in Mental Health: A collaboration with young people, clinicians & academics

What is this project?

Funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC), our Young People’s Network has been working with Rose McCabe, Matthew Broome, Lisa Bortolotti and Michael Larkin on an exciting project about young people’s sense of social agency. Agency is the capacity of an individual to act independently and make their own choices.

The project explores how young people feel helped or harmed by mental healthcare interactions. To do this, the project:

  • collaborates with young people, their families, clinicians and academics across philosophy, ethics (the study of what is right and wrong), psychology and neuroscience (the study of the brain) to investigate agency, identity and justice in youth mental health. 
  • analysed verbal and non-verbal communication in mental healthcare encounters involving young people to examine how young people’s sense of agency is encouraged or hindered in these encounters
  • Asked young people to identify their preferences on how best to interview them about their experience of agency and justice
  • developed new study ideas to explore this topic further for future funding.

Why is this project important?

Mental healthcare interactions offer access to treatment and support from services. However, conversations with young people have revealed that sometimes, services seem to speak a different language to young people. This can lead them to feel that they are not involved in decisions about their own care, like their needs have not been met, and ultimately, that their sense of their agency is not being respected. Therefore, this project is interested in how young people feel enabled to be ‘active agents’ in their care and identify solutions they feel will help, rather than harm them. 

How are McPin and people with lived experience of mental health problems involved in the project?

Five members of our Young People’s Network with lived experience of mental health problems have been young advisers on the project since 2021. They shaped the project throughout, ensuring that it was appropriate and relevant for young people. They also helped us to analyse the findings; together we watched real-life video recordings of young people in emergency departments during their interactions with mental health professionals. We each shared our perspectives, reflecting on how best to promote agency in those interactions.

What is the current status of the project? 

The first stage of the project has now closed and, together with our young advisers, we produced a series of outputs of our findings, as shown below. Excitingly, we were recently successful in receiving more funding from the MRC to work with this team in developing a methodology for other researchers to learn from our approach. This stage of the project kicks off in November.


Communication in youth mental health clinical encounters: Introducing the agential stance


How to give young people agency in mental health

Different members of the team have also written a series of blogs discussing their perspectives on agency and young people in mental health on the Imperfect Cognitions website.


McPin Foundation · How to give young people agency in mental health


The below poster was created in collaboration with the McPin YPAG and the Agency Project team.

Where can I find more information?

You can check out the project’s website here:

For further queries about service user involvement, please contact Rachel Temple by email: or by phone: 0207 922 7874.