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Centring Young People in Mental Health Research

A collaboration to improve involvement of young people and co-production in mental health research through promotion of best practice and shared learning

Young people sitting in a circle

What is the project about?

This project is an exciting new collaboration between The University of Birmingham, its Institute for Mental Health (IMH) and their Youth Advisory Group (YAG), and The McPin Foundation’s own Young People’s Advisory Group (YPAG).

Involving young people with lived experience of mental health issues in relevant research projects is a priority at both McPin and the UoB IMH. It empowers young people to have a say about the research that affects them, and shapes the research to have the best possible impact in the real-world. Co-production is where people with lived experience and researchers share power, responsibility, and decision-making throughout the “research cycle”, from deciding what to research and designing the project, to conducting the research and sharing the results. You can learn more about involvement and co-production here.

This project aims to improve involvement of young people and co-production in mental health research. We will do this by promoting best practice, putting this into practice ourselves, and sharing what we learn, both locally and nationally. The project is funded by a branch of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) called Research England, who aim to create and sustain high quality research and knowledge exchange within and across universities and partnering organisations.

How are McPin and young people with lived experience involved in this project?

The IMH YAG and McPin YPAG will work closely together to prioritise and support the delivery of the goals of the project, which are as follows:

  • Increasing the number of IMH YAG members to include:
    • Younger individuals (14 – 25 years, instead of 18 – 25).
    • Individuals from communities that have typically been under-represented in mental health research, making sure to consider the multiple aspects of one’s background and identity that can affect their experience e.g., gender, ethnicity, sexuality, neurodiversity, disability and economic background (intersectionality).
  • Increasing membership to the McPin Young People’s Network (YPN) and establishing it as a space where young people can learn about involvement opportunities from researchers.
  • Creation of IMH’s own wider network to engage and involve more young people outside of the YAG.
  • Training and development for new and existing IMH YAG and McPin YPAG members to empower them to feel confident when applying their lived experience to projects and taking on more leadership roles.
  • Making training around involvement of young people and co-production an important fixture for researchers on taught MSc and PhD programs at The University of Birmingham.
  • Conducting a scoping exercise, focus groups and community engagement to review current practices in lived experience involvement and co-production, and identifying the most suitable models of engagement and involvement for future advisory groups, including a Dementia Advisory Group (DAG).
  • Putting this into practice ourselves and collating everything we learn into best practice guidelines for lived experience involvement and co-production in young people’s mental health research.
  • Building a network of leads in youth involvement through which we can support each other’s goals.
  • Shared learning locally between the IMH YAG and McPin YPAG, and between the UoB, IMH and McPin, as well as nationally through a dissemination strategy with wide reach and high impact.

Why is this work important?

Involvement of young people and co-production in mental health research can sometimes be a challenging process. We are yet to fully understand the barriers young people face and the support they need to enable them to engage with mental health research. It is also hard for researchers to get the power dynamics right and ensure they are involving young people in a meaningful and safe way throughout the research cycle.

We hope that through this work, we can involve and empower more young people, and ensure that we are hearing from communities that have previously been underrepresented but are also often the most impacted. It is also an opportunity for us to get creative and try new things to engage and involve young people and other communities in the most meaningful ways possible, as well as move more fully from involvement to co-production and youth-led ways of working. We will share our learnings through resources, training materials, and best practice guidelines on involvement of young people and co-production in mental health research to support both young people and researchers.

What is the current status of the project?

The partnership has been established with University of Birmingham, IMH, and McPin staff meeting regularly.

We held our first joint meeting between the IMH YAG and McPin YPAG in July 2022! We have identified training and development opportunities for IMH YAG and McPin YPAG members, including attendance at the exciting upcoming International Association for Youth Mental Health (IAYMH) 6th International Conference in Denmark, Copenhagen at the end of September 2022. We have also co-designed the first training session to be included in the UoB MSc in Mental Health, “Communicating with Young People”. We have begun our scoping exercise for existing resources on lived experience involvement and co-production, alongside one-to-one meetings, consultations, and focus groups (“The Future of the YAG” and “Creating Safe Spaces”) with young people and co-applicants, through which we have so far identified 6 priority areas for best practice guidelines on lived experience involvement and co-production: 1. Inequalities, intersectionality, and increasing diversity; 2. Inclusivity and safe spaces; 3. Engagement; 4. Training and development; 5. Running a meeting; 6. Transition into adult involvement post YAG/YPAG.

The McPin Young People’s team alongside members of the YPAG have already co-produced a guide to running a meeting with young people, in which you’ll find ten top tips ranging from planning to payment to flexibility and training.

Where can I find more information?

Please feel free to contact the Senior Public Involvement in Research Facilitator for this partnership, annabelwalsh@mcpin.org who will be more than happy to answer any questions and provide any further information. You can sign up to the McPin Foundation Young People’s Network here, and find out about The University of Birmingham Institute for Mental Health Youth Advisory Group here. Finally, remember to keep an eye out on our socials for announcements related to this work!

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