Published: Friday, 12th May 2017

A group of young people from Oldham have delivered recommendations on how we can deal better with mental health.

MH:2K is a pioneering new project, which enables young people to explore mental health issues and influence decision-making in their local area.

It empowers 14-25 year olds to:

· Identify the mental health issues that they see as most important

· Engage their peers in discussing and exploring these topics

· Work with key local decision-makers to make recommendations for change

MH:2K is delivered by a partnership of national charity Involve and social enterprise Leaders Unlocked.

MH:2K has been piloting in Oldham since September 2016, supported by a Wellcome Trust People Award, Oldham Council and Oldham Clinical Commissioning Group.

The project's work has been informed by a local expert panel, chaired by Alan Higgins, Director of Public Health at Oldham Council.

A team of 20 young people from Oldham were recruited as ‘Citizen Researchers’. This diverse group includes those with direct experiences of mental health issues and individuals from at risk groups.

Zara Akhtar (23), from Oldham, battled anxiety and depression after graduating from university and last year went into psychosis. She spent seven weeks in a psychiatric ward and has since started to rebuild her life.

Zara said: “When I was released I had to rebuild my life again. I couldn’t even leave the house to go for a walk I was that anxious.

“Being involved in MH:2K has helped me change my life. It’s one of the best things that’s happened to me. This time last year I wouldn’t envisage I’d be doing the things I’m doing today.

“There’s nothing like personal experience. The biggest part of making change is hearing the stories of patients. I have that experience and a genuine understanding of mental health and what we can do better.

“If I can ever stand up and make changes, I’ll be the first one there.”

The Citizen Researchers were supported in exploring key national and local information about youth mental health, and to discuss their own views and perspectives.

The Researchers determined the top five issues facing young people in Oldham on mental health:

  • The environment and culture of school
  • Self-harm
  • Stigma
  • Family and relationships
  • Professional practice 

They also co-designed and delivered workshops for 598 other young people in Oldham on the five priority topics. The workshops - which were hosted by local organisations - gave young people vital information about mental health conditions and services.

They also collected young people's views on what’s working, what’s not, and potential solutions around mental health prevention, support and services in Oldham. 

The Citizen Researchers then worked with the expert panel to develop strong, practical recommendations for change.

On Tuesday 9 May they delivered those recommendations to key local and regional stakeholders at the Chadderton Suite, Queen Elizabeth Hall.

The recommendations include; health professionals visiting religious buildings to give talks, target information at the primary school age group, including information for children to take home to their parents.

They also recommend a free mediation service for extended family to enable young people to be heard at home, designated areas in schools for relaxation, a peer education approach to address bullying and mental health drop-in sessions at schools.

Another key recommendation was for schools and colleges to receive training around social media, with the internet now adding to problems with bullying.

Alan Higgins, Director of Public Health at Oldham Council, said: “It’s been an absolute pleasure working with such a remarkable group of young people.

“Their insight into issues surrounding mental health is invaluable and we can all learn a great deal from them.

“This is a project Oldham Council is proud to be part of and one that can make a real difference to such an important issue, mental health.”

Sarah Allan, Engagement Lead, Involve and MH:2K co-lead said: "It's fantastic to see the commitment in Oldham to making changes to mental health prevention, support and services as the result MH:2K's findings and recommendations.

“No one knows what is and isn't working for young people as well as young people themselves. It's vital to give them a real voice and influence over the services which affect their lives and that's exactly what Oldham is doing."

Rose Dowling, Director, Leaders Unlocked and MH:2K co-lead said: "MH:2K has been a real demonstration of the skills and potential of young people.

“Our Citizen Researchers have played a vital role in the project, choosing the project's focus areas, engaging 600 of their peers to give them a voice on this important topic, and deciding the project's recommendations. They've shown  the true value in letting young people take the lead."

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