By Josh Smith
Durham’s new Head of Mental Health Research Group in Queen’s Campus has told Palatinate about the University’s newfound dedication in establishing groundbreaking practices in the field of mental health.
Dr Helen Stain helped create Youth Speak, a mental health research group based in the north-east, in late 2013.
Youth Speak is directly informed by the experiences of young people and is centred on the concept of patient and public involvement (PPI). This includes people who have experienced mental health problems themselves, have been a carer, or have no experience at all.
Dr Stain concentrates on the resilience and wellbeing of young people experiencing mental health problems. Youth Speak channels this research in order to change health policy.
Speaking to Palatinate, Dr Stain commended PPI in the United Kingdom: “Young people are now becoming the drivers of research.
“People definitely underestimate the potential of young people. One reaction was, ‘that will never work’. If that’s the prevailing attitude, our research will be totally isolated from the real world.”
Twenty per cent of young people aged between 14 and 25 experience a mental health disorder. ‘Tomorrow’s Healthy Adults’ is a key research theme for the Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing, based in Queen’s Campus.
However, the social and emotional wellbeing of young adults is being increasingly challenged by the difficulties in identifying mental health problems.
Many young people, who experience mental health problems, such as depression or psychosis, are often too afraid to speak out about their condition. Misconceptions surrounding mental health are incredibly destructive, not only for the young person concerned but for everyone.
Dr Stain elaborated on the subject of negative attitudes towards mental health, telling Palatinate: “Young people are often portrayed negatively, let alone about mental health.
“There are basic old-age labels that you’re crazy, that you can’t be trusted. Labels really shouldn’t matter.”
Youth Speak deconstructs these labels and works on reducing youth mental health stigma.
Last year, a workshop was run by its members to change attitudes among researchers and health professionals when engaging with young people.
The group meets on a monthly basis to discuss and shape research for university academics working in youth mental health.
An EU grant application of €6 million has been submitted for 2015, and will establish Youth Speak in other countries and expand their practices.
However, Dr Stain explained to Palatinate that it is difficult to acquire funds, given that only 5% of EU grant applications are successful: “Youth Speak is the most difficult to fund as it is not a research project…it’s quite a unique model.”
However, Dr Stain’s project requires the University’s help to reach its true potential. As Head of the Mental Health Research Group, Dr Stain intends to launch a PR campaign to get more people, especially University students, involved. “We are looking for people to join us in our community engagement for research.
“There is a very clear theme. We can’t ‘do’ youth mental health unless we ask young people.”
Youth Speak is free to join and does far more than just raising awareness since it teaches youth-friendly practices for research and advocates for changes in youth mental health services.
Dr Lisa Webster, a post-doctoral researcher with the Mental Health Research Group alongside Dr Stain, commented on the highly useful services the Group provides.
She told Palatinate that seminars and conferences are available to all students to help further the understanding of youth mental health and that “it’s not only academics and professors, but service users and carers that give advice.”
Dr Stain is also developing a new study to recruit through the colleges in order to make students aware of the impact of childhood adversity or trauma on mental health.
“Everybody has a responsibility of raising awareness. Helping someone mentally, it’s the same as learning basic physical first aid.”
Photograph: Madlen Popignatovajkit