MH:2K: engaging young people in conversations about mental health

Oldham Council was the first area in the country to pilot MH:2K, a powerful new model for engaging young people in conversations about mental health in their local area. 

The challenge

Mental health conditions affect about one in 10 young people, with vulnerable groups particularly at risk. Young people have a unique and vital perspective on their mental health.  Yet, despite this fact, they are often not involved in informing and shaping decisions about mental health prevention, support and services. This is a missed opportunity to ensure services are as effective (in terms of both of health outcomes and quality of experience), and efficient (in terms of resources) as possible. 

By harnessing young people’s experiences and views, MH:2K enables decision-makers and researchers to gain a deeper understanding of mental health issues in their area and gain new insights about effective solutions for prevention, support and services. It supports them to better serve the diversity of their youth populations.

The solution

MH:2K was developed by national charity Involve and social enterprise Leaders Unlocked. From September 2016 to July 2017, they piloted MH:2K in Oldham, supported by a Wellcome Trust People Award, Oldham Council and Oldham Clinical Commissioning Group.

When MH:2K started in Oldham, the council had just made children’s and young people’s mental health a priority, but had not yet decided where to focus. Oldham’s Youth Council had also been working on youth mental health for several years and there was a real appetite to build on its work, engaging even more young people and supporting a wider conversation about mental health and emotional wellbeing.

MH:2K has six main areas of work:

​​​1. Recruitment
A core team of young people became the project’s ‘Citizen Researchers’. These young people include those with direct experience of mental health issues and individuals from at risk groups.

In Oldham 20 young people with diverse backgrounds were recruited. Of these, 50 per cent identified as being from black and minority ethnic communities, 40 per cent had personal experience of mental illness, 40 per cent were not currently in education, employment or training, 20 per cent identified as having learning difficulties or disabilities, and 10 per cent identified as LGBTQ+.

2. Design Days
Citizen Researchers explored key national and local information about youth mental health, alongside their own views and experiences. The Researchers determined the top five mental health challenges facing young people in their local area. They received training in research, facilitation and public speaking.

In Oldham, the Citizen Researchers identified the top five mental health challenges facing young people as: families and relationships, the environment and culture of schools, stigma, professional practice and self-harm.

3. Roadshow
The Citizen Researchers co-designed and co- delivered workshops to engage at least 500 other young people on the five priority topics.

In Oldham, the Citizen Researchers engaged 598 of their peers across 42 workshops.

4. Results Day
The Citizen Researchers analysed the information collected during the roadshow and extracted key findings. They worked with local decision-makers and researchers to develop strong, practical recommendations for change.

In Oldham, the Citizen Researchers identified twenty-nine findings and co-created thirty recommendations in total across the five topic areas. The recommendations included:

  • health professionals visiting religious buildings to give talks
  • targeting information at the primary school age group, including information for children to take home to their parents
  • a free mediation service for extended families to let young people to be heard at home
  • designated areas in schools for relaxation
  • a peer education approach to address bullying
  • mental health drop-in sessions at schools
  • schools and colleges to receive training around social media, with the internet now adding to problems with bullying.

5. Big Showcase
The Citizen Researchers presented their findings and recommendations to key stakeholders at a showcase event, involving facilitated conversations about next steps.

In Oldham, the Big Showcase was attended by 87 stakeholders from 27 different organisations.

6. An Expert Panel of key local decision-makers and stakeholders informed the project’s work.

In Oldham, the panel, as well as informing the project’s work, engaged an even wider range of partners through their work in disseminating the project’s findings and final report.

The impact

MH:2K’s independent evaluation reported that ‘stakeholders have identified multiple potential impacts on research, decision-making and engagement practice’, with ‘potential for significant improvements in health outcomes to occur’.

Some Citizen Researchers reported that the project had led to significant improvements in their own mental health and wellbeing. The Citizen Researchers also recorded significant increases in their knowledge about mental health. Among the impacts reported by Roadshow participants:

  • 78 per cent said they had gained knowledge about mental health or a mental health issue
  • 69 per cent said they had gained greater awareness of where to go to get help with mental health issues
  • 53 per cent said they had gained more confidence to seek help for mental health problems, if they ever needed to.

Demonstrating local leadership and accountability

Partner involvement via the Expert Panel provided the key challenge and support to develop MH:2K, ensuring that it was inclusive and supportive in its work with Citizen Researchers.

The project’s implementation was overseen by the Children and Young People’s Emotional Wellbeing and Mental Health Partnership, which in turn reports to Oldham’s Health and Wellbeing Board.  A Task and Finish Group was established under the Children and Young People’s Emotional Wellbeing and Mental Health Partnership, to develop and drive an action plan for implementing the project’s and Citizen Researcher’s recommendations.

However the real focus of accountability is back to the Citizen Researchers themselves; and they have now been asked to form a reference group to inform and help shape future work.  Further work for the Researchers is being highlighted by Healthy Young Minds and Tameside Oldham and Glossop Mind, proving the value of their role.

Full summary report


Jodie Barber
Senior Manager – Youth Service, Oldham Council

This case study, written by Su Turner of Insight to Impact Consulting Ltd, is taken from the forthcoming LGA publication ‘Lessons in local leadership and accountability for children’s mental health services’.

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