UK Research & Innovation and the Medical Research Council are supporting two knowledge mobilisation projects in 2020/2021 to support the mental health and wellbeing or adolescents as we live through the COVID pandemic. These projects are our own CoRAY project focused on young people aged 11 – 16 years and the Keep Cool project which focuses on young people aged 14-24 years.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult time for many young people. In addition to concerns about their own health and that of their loved ones, other things are adding to the stress, such as school closures, uncertainties about exams, the challenging situation on the job market, worries about the future, and limited contact with friends. It is understandable that many young people have felt anxious, sad, and angry and struggled to cope with their emotions. At the same time, the COVID-19 restrictions have created additional challenges in accessing support. That’s why making sure young people have easy access to evidence-based advice to help them look after their mental health is particularly important now.
The KeepCool project aims to do just that through a series of educational videos and supplementary materials co-produced with young people, covering tips on coping with anxiety, sadness, and anger. It is important to involve young people in the production of educational materials aimed at them as they know their own struggles best and, just as importantly, they know what speaks to them and how to deliver advice in an accessible and engaging way.
KeepCool centres on the experiences of young people, while the academic and clinical teams make sure that the advice that the young people share is in line with best clinical practice. The project lives primarily on social media, as it allows not only to reach the young audience more efficiently than conventional media, but also to connect, share ideas, and learn from each other quickly in the current rapidly changing environment. KeepCool is funded by the UK Research and Innovation and led by Andrea Danese, Professor of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at King’s College London and the South London & Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, in collaboration with McPin Foundation, production company TOAD, and social media agency Passion Digital.
Members of the McPin Young People’s Network have been advisors, reviewers, and active partners on the project, including utilising their creative skills to design and shape dissemination materials. Some of them were drawn to the project because it allowed them to explore how other young people were affected by the lockdown at an emotional level. Others wanted to join because they had lived experience of mental health issues and were keen to help other young people with their mental health by tackling the stigma around it. One of the goals of KeepCool is to facilitate an open discussion around negative emotions, which are universal and experienced by everyone at some point but are still often perceived as shameful by society. For some young people, taking part in discussions and listening to others’ experiences was helpful in realising that they shared an understanding of their mental health, which is something that they often did not have the opportunity to discuss with other people their age.
The project generates knowledge about young people’s mental health difficulties based on their experiences. This puts young people at the centre, giving them a voice to address their challenges in a direct way as well as an opportunity to share their thoughts and gain ideas and insight into the experiences of others. What was particularly important was fostering a safe space, which allowed young people to discuss their mental health openly, and making sure that every young person in the group could contribute in their own way and as much as they felt they wanted to.
The project began with prioritising the emotions to cover in the videos and other materials, which was followed by extensive conversations about what the emotions feel like, when young people tend to experience them, and how to deal with them to feel better. Based on those discussions, the research team have worked with TOAD to produce educational videos, supplemented by other materials with coping advice. The young people then provided constructive feedback on the changes that could be made to improve the KeepCool products and make them more accessible and engaging. In addition to that, they have written blog posts and created art and poetry as a way of expressing their emotions.
Such collaborative work has helped to make sure that the audience could identify with the difficulties described in the videos and that the project outcomes reflected the lived experience of young people. For some young people, sharing the films that they co-produced and posting them on social media have opened a dialogue around mental health with friends with whom they had not previously discussed the topic.
KeepCool is currently calling for more young people aged 16-24 to submit their contributions. Selected entries will appear on the project Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter pages and their authors will receive £10 vouchers as a thank-you for their time. If you would like to take part, please visit the KeepCool website for more information.