Insights from young people are key to designing engaging mental health services

Photo credit: Devin Avery on Unsplash youth, mental health, suicide prevention, young people,

Dr Alyssa Morse was in her twenties when she first sought help for mental ill-health. “The digital space was a very important place for me to access information. Even though I have a background in psychology, at the time, what I was experiencing was quite different to what I had read about in text books. Unfortunately, I found it difficult to find information online that looked like what I was feeling.”

It is this personal experience that drives Dr Morse to improve the type of mental health information available and its accessibility for young people. Thanks to a generous financial donation, she is part of a team that will co-create a research project to do just that.

Dr Morse along with Dr Stewart Sutherland and Dr Brett Scholz will explore how best to promote help seeking in people aged 16-25 years, assess why young people do or don’t access available resources, and understand how they’d like to use technology to gain information and support.

As part of the design of the project the research team has ensured that young people with a lived experience of mental ill-health are involved.

“Placing value on a young person’s lived experience creates an important power shift. Rather than a top down approach where the knowledge and beliefs of service providers and researchers dictate how information is shared and experienced, having young people in the conversation moves the power into their hands so that the services that are designed better meet their needs,” Dr Morse said.

Dr Scholz, who is also an advocate for the inclusion of people with a lived experience added, “What we’ve seen is that mental health services can be perceived as all alike. If a person has a negative experience with one mental health service, they may not feel safe or comfortable engaging other services. We want to minimise this. By including young people in the design process we’re able to come up with recommendations that are relevant, innovative, safer and meaningful to them. This should then result in more meaningful engagement with mental health services when they are needed.”

Although today’s generation of youth is far more literate about mental health than previous generations and there is now a range of information and resources available online, there are still hurdles to accessing help.

This can sometimes come down to structural barriers such as lack of access to their own money, insufficient availability of services and long wait times, or the need for parental permission to gain professional support.

Or, it can involve attitudinal barriers as explained by Dr Morse, “Stigma is one reason why young people don’t seek help, they might feel shame or embarrassment about sharing how they are feeling.  Young people can also have a strong sense of self-reliance, believing they need to handle the situation on their own.”

The research team hopes that by engaging metropolitan, rural and Indigenous youth the recommendations put forward will have high impact for each cohort.

Dr Scholz said, “When it comes to mental health services, there isn’t a once size fit all solution. Ensuring we have representation of young people from all walks of life involved will mean tailored recommendations for each group, hopefully leading to higher engagement when solutions are implemented.”

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If you’re a young person that is seeking support, these resources may be helpful:

Kids Help Line

Head to Health

Headspace

BeyondBlue

Speak to your GP

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