Understanding young people’s mental health experiences

Working with young people to understand their experiences and preferences for mental health support






Extensive insight and recommendations report, Principles for developing trauma informed mental health support

The Challenge

Mind had recently unveiled a new strategy, with 'supporting young people' named as one of their top three developmental priorities. Yet, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, there had also been a concerning rise in reported mental health issues among young individuals, with an increasing number recounting experiences of trauma. With large knowledge gaps around how best to support young people, Mind commissioned us to conduct a large-scale exploratory research project into young people’s experiences of and preferences for mental health support. We were also asked to focus research on young people with experiences of trauma, to help Mind with the development of an organisational trauma informed approach. 

Client Details

Mind is the leading mental health charity in the UK. They work across England and Wales and provide advice and support to empower people experiencing poor mental health. They also campaign to improve services, influence policy making, raise awareness and promote understanding.

Our Approach

As an exploratory research project, we used a mixed methods research approach, which involved desk research, qualitative research, quantitative research, and peer research. This included:

  • Interviews with mental health experts and providers
  • Interviews with children and young people (CYP)
  • Diary studies and cultural probes with CYP
  • A population level survey
  • Desk based trends research
  • Mapping and analysis of existing trauma informed provision
  • Peer research and collaboration with a group of 10 young people across the duration of the project.

Throughout this project, we had to take extreme care to balance the sensitive subject matter and vulnerable research participant group with the research needs. This involved:

  • Robust Safeguarding — in addition to completing relevant training, our team worked with a child counsellor who embedded themselves within the field research team and helped to manage engagements with young people.
  • Adapting the research to different ages — we adjusted our language, lines of questioning, and frames of reference to suit the range of ages we were speaking to (CYP between 11-25 year old).
  • Creative Engagement Methods — we used several creative methods within the research to help participants express themselves. For instance, we posted some participants an activity, in which they were asked to draw a mythical creature which resembled their dream mental health service. When later interviewed about their drawings, they were able to explain concepts that otherwise were difficult to articulate.  

Across all this research, we helped Mind target groups of young people whose voices were the least heard. We conducted all recruitment for this project, and met Mind’s ambitious targets for centering minoritised ethnic groups, LGBTQIA+ young people, those living in poverty, and certain geographies within the research.

The project outputs involved an extensive insight and recommendations report, including case studies, personas, service mapping, and trauma informed principles. Insights and recommendations covered a wide range of topics including:

  • Young people’s understanding of mental health
  • Their experiences of stigma and discrimination
  • Their awareness of mental health support
  • Barriers to finding and using support
  • What Mind can do to tackle structural inequality
  • How Mind can best engage young people
  • Skills and experience Mind needs to support young people

A spotlight on the Young Experts programme

As part of this work, we wanted to conduct an ambitious peer research exercise and work in collaboration with a small group of young people to shape and extend the research. To do so we set up the ‘Young Experts Programme’ and invited applications from young people to work alongside us over 4 months, proposing a mutual exchange of skills, knowledge and experiences. 

We selected 10 of the best applicants, all with diverse lived experiences of mental health problems and trauma, to form the ‘Young Experts.’ Across 4 months we worked with them, we trained them in entry level research methods, and invited them into our process. Initially they helped us unpack the project’s research questions, and translate these into survey questions and interview discussion guides, and then later we all worked together to create future scenarios about mental health support and engage other young people with these. 

Eventually, we started sharing insights from the research we were conducting, and supported some of them to conduct their own research which expanded on insight areas we’d identified. For example, one young expert conducted a research project on the impact of growing up with Filipino parents on awareness of and access to mental health support, after seeing that we had identified similar trends across multiple ethnic groups. 

Several of the young experts we worked with went on to join the final research presentation with us, talk about their experiences at conferences on behalf of Mind, and even pursue careers in mental health research and/or lived experience participation.  



New data on hard to reach groups of young people

We helped Mind fill in several knowledge gaps around young people’s experiences and preferences, gathering new data on how different demographic factors and intersectionalities play a role in young people’s experiences, from groups of young people that Mind had previously had little success engaging. 


A path forward for the young people team

This research created the foundation for (and is extensively cited within) Mind’s young people blueprint for change (strategy). Insights and recommendations from our research are at the heart of the blueprint, informing a wide range of goals around organisational culture, information provision, targeted support for specific groups of young people, governance and power sharing and more. Recommendations have also been taken on outside the young people team, and have influenced the policy and campaigns, digital, communications, and information teams among others. Subsequently we’ve been asked to support Mind with progressing some of these objectives.


A foundation for trauma informed practice

We provided foundational insights and recommendations around what the ingredients of trauma-informed practice (a relatively new concept at the time) should look like for young people. Our research is heavily cited in, and our recommendations are closely aligned to Mind’s ongoing plan for developing trauma-informed practice across the organisation.