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New conversations, VR and more money for young people: looking back on 2019

Vanessa Pinfold

With the December holidays fast approaching, I am sitting on the train on the way home from work looking back on another year at the McPin Foundation. This is our seventh year as a mental health charity championing expertise from experience in research. It isn’t always easy to explain to people what we do, especially outside of the involvement and mental health spheres, as we have a highly specialised remit. Our main aim is to transform research using collaborative methodologies – especially using the expertise we gain from life experiences, including living with mental health issues.

While it is often a rollercoaster ride, with progress being made alongside significant blocks, the fantastic team at McPin has kept me and everyone else challenged, energised and focused on this key remit. This year we have done this through influencing the wider sector, delivering research ourselves and providing advisory inputs for a range of different studies. 

With the train speeding forward through early darkness, here are my 2019 highlights:

Attending the European Network for Mental Health Service Evaluation

ENMESH took place in Lisbon in June. It was great to meet international survivor, consumer and lived experience researchers. The terms we use differ but being in the same room and talking about our work brought into focus the shared aims of our work: to bring experiential expertise into the mental health mainstream.  At ENMESH, McPin had 10 pieces of work mentioned, which brought home how many partnerships we have forged recently. See our 2018/2019 infographic for the numbers, including organising 15 involvement panels, developing 46 projects and working with 13 universities.

A rather exciting and disorientating first experience of virtual reality!

While my eyes may have struggled to adapt to my new environment, I couldn’t help feel as though I was glimpsing a world of potential. This year at McPin, many of my colleagues have been involved in virtual reality projects, including gameChange, a VR therapy for people with psychosis and other studies creating digital interventions for depression and OCD. This recent blog from the gameChange team reflects on lessons learnt around delivering meaningful research involvement in virtual reality studies, as well as the challenges.

More funding for young people’s mental health

At a recent meeting of the Mental Health Research Funders forum, we got to learn an extensive amount about new research funding programmes. A body of research that stood out was research on children and young people’s mental health, which links well to our Right People Right Questions project that identified 10 research priorities. The growing emphasis on mental health, including that of young people, has been seen throughout the health sector. Wellcome Trust listed mental health research as a priority area alongside its existing neuroscience programme. UKRI (with the MRC as the lead) has announced an adolescent mental health programme, focusing on the developing mind. Our Young People’s Network contributed to research ideas at the launch workshop in November (see the photo above). The Wolfson Foundation recently awarded Cardiff University an investment to develop a centre for young people’s mental health research.

New conversations and developing older ones

Talking with the McPin team and our growing ecosystem of external peer researchers about research, involvement work, user-experience testing and co-production in research has been both personally and professionally highly fulfilling. Together, we have worked hard on finding meaningful answers through our work to questions including: How do these concepts differ? Why is it so important to distinguish engagement activities from involvement work? We believe it really is important to constantly evolve our thinking, engage in debate and test out new ways of working. We asked questions about power sharing, drawing on practical experiences such as our work in PARTNERS2. We reflected on how to involve people in public mental health research – starting with who are the public? We began plans for a podcast series in 2020 exploring collaborative methodologies.

We wish you all a restful festive season, and a special thanks to @myillumind for designing our card this year. Look out for more illustrations in our outputs in 2020!