Rachel Wilcock and Aston Monro

Our research together focuses on school-based programmes that aim to develop and enhance children and young people’s mental health literacy, often including those living in some of the most under-served, under-resourced, and socially deprived areas of England. In early 2022, we began to think about children and young people’s involvement in research, arriving at the question ‘how can researchers include children and young people’s voices to shape research and the delivery of school-based programmes? ‘.

The inclusion of children and young people’s voices and views to contribute to decision making of research and programmes intended for them is often limited. To address the gap, we adopted an equitable and experientially-informed co-produced approach for the Tackling the Blues (TtB) programme (a sport, art and education-based mental health literacy programme), whereby we sought the lived experience of children and young people to shape the programme they will engage with (Smith et al. 2022).

One aim of TtB this year was to deliver a programme of workshops that were decided with children and young people, allowing them to be open and honest in their expectations for how they wanted the programme to be for them. The TtB team spent 4 weeks in schools with the children and young people having conversations and completing booklets with spaces to write and draw about 1) their understanding of mental health, 2) impacts to their mental health, 3) how they would like the sessions to be delivered, and 4) how they would like to be involved with research. In doing so, the children and young people’s views and preferences influenced how TtB was delivered for each group selected by the schools to be involved.

Our initial evaluation findings have highlighted the empowerment that the children and young people felt to identify topics relating to mental health that were important to them and what they wanted to learn about. One primary school pupil explained:

“We have like the power to think what we get to do because like, sometimes, you know, in our other PE lessons [the teacher] just says we’re doing this, like, we don’t really get a choice in it.”

Again, lots of the children and young people referred positively to having a choice, including sharing what they don’t want to do:

“I like that. So, so if we didn’t, so we could choose things, so we could say the things that we do like, the things that we did want to do and we didn’t want to do, I liked that.”

So, thinking back to our original question, this approach has highlighted the importance of including children and young people’s voices in the design, delivery and evaluation of school-based mental health literacy programmes. For us, we will continue to involve voices of children and young people, and it seems a positive way to do so is through safe spaces that create the opportunity to talk, write and draw to express their views.

Rachel Wilcock and Aston Monro are Research Assistants in Sport, Mental Health and Education

Find out more about Tackling the Blues.

The ACRE 2023 conference was hosted by the IDI Research Network. Find out more about getting involved with our research networks.

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