Earlier this year we finished an amazing global 4 month project, collaborating with WACIT and CORC, with funding from the Wellcome Trust on ‘Active Ingredients‘. This project aimed to explore how young people across the world prevented and/or intervened on depression or anxiety. Our involvement, included Youth Involvement Lead Nick Morgan and Peer researchers Inga Spuerck and Milos Stankovic.
Below are the full length blogs from our amazing Peer Researchers Inga and Milos, of their experiences from the project, as well as the bidding video with volunteer activist Paulina and results video.
- Why did I get involved in the project?
I got involved in this project because of several reasons:
First, I think that mental health is an important topic that can cause a lot of suffering to the person dealing with mental health difficulties and the ones who are supporting this person. Therefore, I was very much interested to share my experiences as a young person to contribute towards research that leads to an improvement of the prevention and intervention of depression and anxiety in young people.
Second, I was interested to learn more about how young people in other countries are conceptualising mental health difficulties and what their needs and hopes are. As I believe that mental health is a topic that everyone can relate to – independent of the cultural and socio-economic background – I like the idea of finding prevention and intervention approaches that are helpful for everyone.
Third, as I already got some experiences of psychological research, I was interested to get some insights into an international research project, especially about such a relevant topic as mental health.
- Challenging experiences during the project & what did I learn?
At the beginning of the project, I found it challenging to find my role in the team and to adapt my time schedule to the project, especially because of the different time zones and short notice changes.
Overall, I would say that being a peer researcher for this project was a very enriching experience for myself and made me learn on many different levels. From a research perspective it was interesting for me to learn about qualitative research and the qualitative analysis, as this was very new to me. I also gained some practical experiences in how to plan, lead and engage young people in our focus and peer advisory groups. A meaningful experience of this project was also to learn more about other cultures. Listening to the experiences and thoughts of the young people involved in the focus groups often made me reflect on my own opinions and see things from a new perspective.
- Thoughts on peer advisors and their role in the project
I think the peer advisors were essential to bridge the communication between the research team and the young people in their countries. Especially they could help with language difficulties to make sure that everything that was shared in the focus groups was understood correctly. The peer advisors were also helpful to make sure that the design of the study and the way focus groups were conducted were tailored to country specifics and that everything was easy to access and understand by the young people.
- Why you got involved in the project
I have decided to join the Active Ingredients project for several reasons. In the first place is the fact that physical and mental health are not getting the same level of attention and recognition. This has not changed in the current health crisis caused by COVID-19 in which everybody speaks about the effects and consequences corona virus has on the body. The effects and consequences related to mental health are not that widely discussed nor considered.
As the second reason I would mention the nature of the project. Discussions which active ingredients can be used for prevention and treatment of anxiety and depression in young people make no sense unless the young people are actively included and have a final say. I was happy to see that young people were pro-actively participating in this project and shaping its outcomes and outputs. Another aspect of the project that I liked is including young people from different countries and cultures. That way it was ensured that the findings really represent the needs and opinions of young people all over the world.
Last but not least, I joined this project because I am psychologist and cognitive-behavioural psychotherapist in training but at the same time young person with personal experience of using mental health services that helped me a lot while going through difficult situations and periods in my life.
2. Challenges experiences during the project & what you learnt
When it comes to challenges, I believe that the biggest one was related to time. This project was fast-paced meaning that we had limited number of days to prepare and implement some activity while making sure that we have created safe environment in which young people feel comfortable sharing and that we get quality results in the end. Another challenge related to time was working with different time-zones. In order to be able to meet young people from different countries sometimes we had to work late in the evening or during the weekends.
During the project I have learnt a lot, mostly from young people that were participating in focus groups. With their help I realized that mental health problems are universal and so is the stigma around of them. Due to the high expectations that different people have from young people (family, friends, teachers, employers…) they often feel stressed and under pressure. In situations where they are not able to share their thoughts and feelings that easily turns into mental health problems, i.e. anxiety and/or depression. Finally, I have learnt the importance of using youth friendly language – some active ingredients were not easily understood by young people both due to the terminology used (e.g. “better gut microbiome function”) and the formulation of the ingredient (e.g. “reduced avoidance of feared things”).
3. Your thoughts on the peer advisors and their role in the project
I believe that the peer advisors had a crucial role in this project. On the national level they were the ones contacting young people that were later on participating in focus groups and helping them throughout the process, not only in terms of language. In addition to that the peer advisors were co-designing, with the research team, the activities and the techniques and methods used during those activities. Finally, they were the ones giving us valuable inputs on how to best proceed with the project.