Yesterday, I was lucky enough to be live tweeting from ‘A Voice and a Choice: Right Here Showcase‘ a day long event taking place at London’s Wellcome Collection.
Right Here is a joint project between The Paul Hamlyn Foundation and The Mental Health Foundation. They describe themselves as a national initiative “creating responsive services that provide young people with the mental health support and advice they want, when and where they want it.”
Right Here is now in the 4th year of a 5-year programme. Their aim is to develop new approaches to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of young people in the UK aged 16 to 25 focusing on intervening early to help young people at risk of developing mental health problems and to tackling the stigma associated with mental health that often prevents young people seeking help. To do this they have funded local partnerships to work with young people to commission services that they think will help other young people. This has been to four regional partnerships across the UK; Right Here Newham in London, Right Here Sheffield, Right Here Brighton and Hove and Right Here Fermanagh. Each of the partnerships have carried out very different activities and are made up of very different organisations. Over the last eighteen months Right Here has also branched out into exploring digital applications created through co-production with young people.
‘A Voice and a Choice’ was an event that showcased what the individual Right Here partnerships have been doing alongside a number of workshops and seminars from other youth-related organisations. Attendees were asked to vote on which of five themes – Big Asks- developed by Right Here young people should be taken forward as most important for future work. Right Here also shared the exciting news of just where their explorations into digital frontier in young people’s mental health and wellbeing are taking them next.
There’s a storify of all of the tweets from the day here and there’ll be a more detailed official event report (written by me, too) later this month. Today, I’m just going to report on some the things that I saw and heard.
Young people: Lots of ‘em
The first thing of note about ‘A Voice and A Choice’ was that there were young people really fired up about mental health at ‘A Voice and A Choice’. Lots of young people fired up about mental health. I had the pleasure of hanging out with a number of them over the day as they tweeted, discussed and presented across the day.
If you’ve been to conferences about ‘young people’s issues’ before, you might expect involvement of young people to have been limited to a few slots saying how brilliant it was to have services provided for them.
At ‘A Voice and a Choice’ it was obvious how much the young people involved are partners, not subjects to be empowered. Over the day I heard young people outlining the problems of mental health services, explaining and showing what it was like to be a young person accessing a service, explaining what it was like to live in a constant climate of fear and violence, and -most excitingly – not just outlining the problems they’d identified but, how as part of Right Here, how they’d come up with solutions and put them into action.
Right Here as a national programme puts a strong emphasis on young people being the drivers of projects. Each regional partnership has a youth panel that is involved in all aspects of decision-making. Many of the individual projects carried out in each area are co-develoepd and co-delivered by young people for other young people.
The feeling that came across from ‘A Voice and A Choice’ was not of young people saying ‘listen to our demands’ but ‘work with us to support and amplify these changes that we’re in the process of making happen ourselves’.
Some Threatening figures
To provide context and to answer the question of why we need more good projects for young people’s mental health and wellbeing Rosemary Watt-Wyness, Director of Policy and Strategy at Prince’s Trust, shared the headline results from their annual Youth Index, which tracks young people’s confidence and happiness.
According to Rosemary, 22% of the 2136 young people aged 16-25 they surveyed don’t feel they have anyone to talk to about their problems, 31% of young people ‘always’ or ‘often’ feel down or depressed and almost one in five young people feel that they have ‘no future’ because of the recession.
The statistics and the economic and social realities show that life as a young person in the UK is getting more difficult and the threats to individual wellbeing more pronounced.
Things tended to be worse if young people were not in education, employment or training. Make no mistake, these are challenging times for young people as a whole, but what of young people with mental health needs?
One of the most interesting panel discussions I’ve heard in ages
Part of the introductory session for the day was a fantastic panel discussion: one young person from Right Here interviewing two other young people from Right Here. Far from the usual dessicated discussion with sector talking heads outlining why we need to change how we do things while simultaneously explaining the reasons why we can’t change things, the young people talked about their own experiences of services and what pragmatic and practical steps could be taken to make them better.
What came through strongly was a sense of NHS services for mental health being uniquely difficult to access, even if you’ve managed to get the information about what to do to access them in the first place. One of the interviewees spoke about the fact that he only learned that he could ask for a double appointment at his GP to discuss his health concerns through Right Here Brighton and Hove’s project to give young people more idea of what they can actually expect from their GP. Before that there wasn’t any way he would have known that, regardless of how useful it would have been to him.
The interviewee also spoke about the fact that NHS services, which may see themselves as series of gateways to treatment and support, often act unwittingly as a series of barriers instead. Having been told he would receive a phonecall about an appointment for a mental health service at 9.00AM he had been so worried about sleeping through the phone ringing due to sleep disturbances related to his condition that he’d stayed up all night. The phonecall never came. He received two identical letters later telling him that he’d missed the opportunity for an appointment and would have to wait. He said that it was only through him hounding the services in question that he’d actually been able to access any help and support. He pointed out the brilliant bind that if you work office hours and mental health services work office hours, how will either of you manage to talk on the phone to arrange something?
His message was that traditionally structured services do not fit the lives of young people. Outlining how Right Here developed and commissioned projects, he explained that the Right here project he’s involved in made sure that they tried to match the structure, timing and location of activities and services to the people they were hoping to come to them.
His co-interviewee echoed his experiences and thoughts and wondered whether flexibility was even possible with more traditional services – how do you expect to help people having a difficult time if you make it as difficult as possible for them to get help?
The Big Asks
One of the things two things that Right Here were debuting at ‘A Voice and Choice’ was their ‘Five Big Asks’. These were five statements or demands were a kind of fighting manifesto for how young people involved in Right Here’s projects would like to see the world change. Delegates were asked to vote on which on they thought most important.
The Five Big Asks were:
We want young people services which:
1. Reunite body and mind (ie treat the mental with the physical because we don’t think they are different)
2. Connect with us, don’t correct us (ie engage and involve us, rather than talk down to us and pathologise us)
3. Are youth-loving, not youth-leaving (we like the services and they like us and they don’t exclude us) and don’t dump us at age 18! (ie stop planning and commissioning children’s and adult’s services in separate boxes, stop making young people do the transitioning, and make the lifecourse approach a reality)
4. Make us the best that we can be: don’t settle for just feeling less bad – reclaim the “health” in mental and stop using it as a synonym for “illness”
5. Come to where we are (ie services are delivered in places in their communities where young people, especially the most vulnerable, feel most comfortable)
The winning Ask by a long chalk was no.3; calling for services not just to dump young people at 18, calling for commissioning of services that joined up seamlessly and which didn’t let people fall into the cracks. As one of the interviewees on the panel discussion asked: ‘Just what support is there for you if you’re a young person who leaves school at 16? Where are you meant to go? How are you meant to even get information about where to go?’
Digital Innovation: A new frontier
The second thing launched at ‘A Voice and A Choice’ was the first public announcement of the organisations that will be talking forward seven different digital projects for young people’s mental health and wellbeing that grew out of Right Here’s activities.
Across a year from December 2011 young people, tech professionals, mental health and youth work folks and others worked together through a series of innovation labs whereto come up with ideas for ways apps and websites might make young people’s lives better and easier. These final ideas were whittled down to eight briefs which were then put out for people to bid to develop them with funds provided by Paul Hamlyn, Comic Relief and Nominet Trust.
I’m hugely excited by this, not least because I’m involved in developing one of them! The list of apps being funded are as diverse as the organisations developing them:
• Mind’s Eye: An online mood monitoring and wellbeing tool to maintain good mental health that reflects and links moods to young people’s everyday lives. It will be developed by Mindapples and Unboxed Consulting
• Madlyinlove: A website dedicated to young people’s relationships and mental health issues, offering support and information to young people with mental health problems and their partners. It will be created by YouthNet
• Doc Ready: A digital tool that will support young people to ensure that when they visit their GP they use their consultation time effectively. Enabled By Design, Neontribe, Futuregov and Social Spider (that’s me!) will develop it
• Medfacts: A straightforward and reliable online information and advice service on how prescribed drugs may influence mental and physical health. YoungMinds and Tictoc will develop it
• Keep the trust: An online support, advice and informal training service that can be used to support adult non-health professionals, who have been identified by young people as influential or important people in their lives. This will be built by sixteen25 and Cernis
• My Places: An online tool that maps local services and helps young people to identify reliable and trustworthy support networks, with the ability to rate services and leave feedback. SussexCentral YMCA, VividBrighton, Right Here Brighton and Hove and Mind Brighton and Hove will create it
• MiniMe: An interactive recovery guide that uses personal information provided by the user on their activity, environment and mood, with the ability to issue an alert to friends and family when in need of support: FACT (Foundation for Arts and Creative Technology), RedNinja and Mersey Care NHS Trust will create it.
They’ll all be launching by July 2014 and all will be developed with the involvement of young people, many of whom will be involved with Right Here. Neither Right Here nor the funders have done anything quite like funding of digital apps, so it represents an exciting new frontier.
Practicalities, visions and nuts-and-bolts
One of the most interesting aspects of the day, for me at least, was that across the workshops and presentations there wasn’t really a split between the people advocating for change and innovation and the people concerned with the nuts-and-bolts of actually making things happen. It’s often the case that the evangelists and visionaries get in, make an exciting, yet oddly insubstantial speech, then get out quick, leaving the people concerned with practicalities grumbling and muttering in their wake.
Across all of the workshops there was a lot of thinking about what needed to be solved and what need to be done to make solving it possible. One very strong idea that came up repeatedly was that young people feel alienated, worried, confused and sometimes oppressed by being forced into using big, unfamiliar and ineffable services. The very simple and pragmatic suggestion was to get mental health professionals out of their clinics and units and into community spaces where young people are comfortable.
I was fascinated by the young people of Right Here Newham talking about the realities of being black or minority ethnic and growing up in an inner city area. I’ve blogged a bit about that elsewhere
Another very strong theme that came up repeatedly was that relationships are as important as services for young people. Who you get to know through getting help or sorting yourself out can be as important as what the service or activity you’re accessing actually does. Being able to feel part of something and part of a group is a valuable corrective to the ways in which accessing mental health support is effectively solitary and isolating.
I think there was a reason that the advocates for change and the pragmatists didn’t do their traditional trick of separating out like the oil and water they sometimes appear to be. Both pragmatists and visionary reformers were brought together by the people at the conference that embodied both qualities: the young people of the Right Here projects themselves.
Far from being either passive agents having ‘good’ done to them or wild-eyed optimists un schooled in the way of the world; the young people I met and heard from at ‘A Voice and a Choice’ were young people who’d experienced difficulties, found something that’d helped and seen just enough things of how things can change to know ‘not good enough’ isn’t something for which they, or us, should settle.
Mark Brown is the editor of ONE in FOUR magazine. He is @markoneinfour on twitter.