Why do the Top 10 priorities for young people’s mental health need answering?

Jessica Bond


The Right People, Right Questions project set out to identify gaps in research on children and young people’s mental health, as identified by children and young people, parents, teachers, mental health and social work professionals, and researchers. The output is a list of the Top 10 most important questions about treatments and services not conclusively answered by research. The hope is that this list will be used by researchers, funders and policymakers to shape research on young people’s mental health over the next three years.

We revealed the questions at an event in Parliament at the end of November. Since then, staff and members of our Young People’s Advisory Group have been reflecting on the importance of the questions. Here are a few edited extracts.


Question 5: What interventions are effective in supporting young people on Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) waiting lists, to prevent further deterioration of their mental health?

“Waiting lists are a fact of life. But it is also a fact that while you wait for treatment to begin, your mental health could be steadily deteriorating. When we reviewed the evidence for the RPRQ project, we were surprised to find that research has little to say about how to help people while they are waiting.

My suspicion is that the NHS and research funders find this a difficult matter. The topic seems to be taboo. Nobody wants to be seen to be offering an approach that may be seen as second best to the treatment and help that people are actually waiting for. But, in the meantime, people suffer.

We know that helping people on waiting lists is not easy. But there is the real possibility that if people are not helped or supported in the right way they might get worse. On the other hand, encouraging people to do something in preparation for a treatment might not be a bad thing. It could give people a kind of head start. What’s more, there is always the possibility that someone may not find the treatment or approach that they have been waiting for useful anyway. In such a case, it could even be that something they tried while on a waiting list could be of more use!

One thing is for sure: more needs to done. Let’s break the taboo surrounding research to help people on waiting lists”.

Thomas Kabir, Project Lead for Right People, Right Questions at McPin

Let’s break the taboo and find out what helps young people on waiting lists


Question 7: Which interventions are effective at supporting suicidal young people?”

“Following recent media coverage of student suicides, many universities have publicly stated that they are taking student mental health extremely seriously. Yet, myself, like many other students, question whether this is actually happening or being done in the most effective way.

Take the University of Bristol’s recent announcement that they are allowing academic tutors the freedom to contact the guardians of students they feel are at risk. This came after the suicide of a 19-year-old first-year English student. After his death, it became apparent that he had been missing seminars and lectures, yet at the time, none of his tutors questioned his declining performance. Bristol’s opt-in scheme is innovative and welcome, but the tragedy that precipitated its introduction encapsulates the complete failure of the student support networks that currently exist.

For a start, what is supposed to happen when the guardian is informed? Presumably they are supposed to take the matter into their own hands and sort out some non-university-based support. The bigger picture question is, why let it get to this stage in the first place? Why can’t universities think of more sustainable ways to tackle the rising rates of student mental ill health?”

Lucy Power, member of the Young People’s Advisory Group

Universities need to find ways to prevent students reaching crisis point


Question 8: How do family relationships, parental attitudes to mental health, and parenting style affect the treatment outcomes of children and young people with mental health problems (both positively and negatively)?

“When I look at my daughters, one niggling thought is what effect my everyday parenting decisions have had on them. Is this just me? I doubt it – the inclusion of this question in the RPRQ list suggests that people are hungry to know more.

Kathy Greenwood is a professor of Clinical Psychology and a McPin collaborator. She thinks that parents likely play a hugely important role: “Most young people tell us that parents are critical in the help-seeking process. Different parents often have different views on mental health and treatments. How parents interact and cope while supporting their child can be a further critical factor”.

In other words, this is a really important but complex area. I don’t think that lots of expensive research is the only response required. Common sense has a very important place in our parental approach. But having a greater understanding of how we, as parents, affect our children’s mental health and having access to more information on the best ways to support them would be very useful. I know it would help me sleep easier at night”.

Vanessa Pinfold, Co-founder and Research Director at McPin

Why we shouldn’t be scared to talk about how parents impact children’s mental health


Question 9: What are the most effective self-help and self-management resources, approaches or techniques available for children and young people with mental health issues?

“In the RPRQ workshop, where the 25 questions rated most important by the public were prioritised, the squeeze on mental health services was at the forefront of everyone’s minds. The room was divided about what, if any, role self-help and self-management techniques should play to ease the strain. Some people argued that putting too much emphasis on these approaches reduces the responsibility on services to support children and young people, unfairly shifting that burden onto the young people themselves.

I understand the controversy. But I’ve learned that recovery comes from the individual. So then the question becomes: When things are tough and we feel like we’re on fire, how do we help ourselves?

Self-management won’t work for everyone but it might help some people who have not yet reached crisis point and who are receptive to it. In my view, one overlooked tool is self-help books. I’ve gained most of my tools from books. There are some books that talk about the author’s experiences of a mental health condition, while others specialise in therapy itself. It’s essentially therapy without the therapist.

A while ago, a therapist recommended a CBT-based book for my OCD while she supported me with social anxiety. It’s difficult to compare two conditions which manifest so differently but I can honestly say that the tools I’ve acquired for OCD have been life-changing. And all from a book. Yet, I can’t say the same for social anxiety because it still interferes with my life a lot. This may be because I waited so long to be treated for the latter, but dealt immediately with the former. Self-help is readily available. Mental health services often aren’t.”

Rachel Temple, Young People’s Coordinator at McPin

Therapy without the therapist: what role should self-help play?

View the Top 10 questions here and the press release here.