Youth mental health participation project set to expand

By Tristan Donovan

| 24 July 2017

A youth project that enlists 14- to 25-year-olds to improve mental health services for young people is going to be launched in more areas following a successful trial.

The MH:2K initiative sees young people recruited as 'citizen researchers' to help shape mental health services. Picture: Oldham Council

The MH:2K project recruits young people as "citizen researchers" who gather the views of their peers on mental ill-health and then work with local decision makers to develop recommendations for change.

Since starting in September 2016, a pilot in Oldham has engaged more than 600 young people including its 20-strong team of citizen researchers.

The originators of the MH:2K model - the public participation charity Involve and the youth social enterprise Leaders Unlocked - now plan to launch in four as-yet-unnamed local authority areas in September, and eventually hope to offer the scheme nationally.

In the final report of the Oldham pilot, the young researchers made 30 recommendations including getting health visitors to give awareness raising talks about mental health in religious venues and schools to become better informed about the pressure and scrutiny young people feel from their use of social media.

The young people also called for more community activities and the provision of ‘drop boxes' in schools that make it easier for young people to tell staff about their self-harming.

Oldham Council is now examining how to implement the young people's suggestions.

Alan Higgins, director of public health at Oldham Council, said: "It's been an absolute pleasure working with such a remarkable group of young people. Their insight into issues surrounding mental health is invaluable and we can all learn a great deal from them."

Sarah Allen, engagement lead at Involve and MH:2K co-lead, said: "It's fantastic to see the commitment in Oldham to making changes to mental health prevention, support and services as the result of MH:2K's findings and recommendations."

The Oldham citizen researchers also felt that being involved in MH:2K benefited them personally. Zara Akhtar, aged 23, said being involved in MH:2K helped her recover after spending seven weeks in a psychiatric ward.

"When I was released I had to rebuild my life again," she said. "I couldn't even leave the house to go for a walk I was that anxious. Being involved in MH:2K has helped me change my life. It's one of the best things that's happened to me. This time last year I wouldn't envisage I'd be doing the things I'm doing today."

The Oldham pilot of MH:2K was funded by the Wellcome Trust, Oldham Council and Oldham Clinical Commissioning Group.

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