Past project


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

Project overview

Agency is the capacity of an individual to act independently and make their own choices. 

This project explored how young people feel helped or harmed by mental healthcare interactions. To do this it: 

  • Collaborated with young people, their families, clinicians and academics across philosophy, ethics, psychology and neuroscience 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 

Project details

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 wanted to explore how young people feel enabled to be ‘active agents’ in their care and identify solutions they feel will help, rather than harm, them.  

Funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC), our Young People’s Network worked with Rose McCabe, Matthew Broome, Lisa Bortolotti and Michael Larkin.  

Five members of our Young People’s Network with lived experience of mental health problems were young advisers on the project.  

They shaped the project throughout, ensuring that it was appropriate and relevant for young people. They also helped analyse the findings by watching real-life video recordings of young people in emergency departments during their interactions with mental health professionals.  

Young people and researchers shared their perspectives, reflecting on how best to promote agency in those interactions. 

Together with our young advisers, we produced a series of outputs of our findings.  

This study has also received more funding from the MRC to work with this team to develop a methodology for other researchers to learn from our approach. The new project is called Agency in Practice. 


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. 

Project resources


How to give young people agency in mental health podcast

The Agency project explores young people’s sense of agency during mental health interactions. This podcast shares what we’ve learned for better conversations.
Young people | 17th February 2023

Work with us

We are always excited to hear from others who want to collaborate on mental health research. From delivering peer research to helping you with public involvement strategies and providing training, get in touch to chat.