Debating Mental Health is a partnership project that is empowering young people who have accessed mental health services through debate. We deliver free debate coaching programmes for young people who have experience of using mental health services. Young people participating in the programme have learnt to find and use their voices through free debate training, delivered as a series of exercises aiming for balanced skills progression applied in selected dialogue and debate formats. Participants are encouraged to set targets for themselves and self-evaluate their progress together with their mentors.
What We Did
Debating Mental Health is a partnership project that is empowering young people who have accessed mental health services through debate. We deliver free debate coaching programmes for young people who have experience of using mental health services.
Young people participating in the programme have learnt to find and use their voices through free debate training, delivered as a series of exercises aiming for balanced skills progression applied in selected dialogue and debate formats. Participants are encouraged to set targets for themselves and self-evaluate their progress together with their mentors.
The programme supports young people to find and use their voice to talk about the issues within mental health that are important to them, whether service experience, stigma, education etc. It is giving young people a safe place to talk about these things, building their self-esteem and helping them to understand that their opinion matters and their voice needs to be heard. Young people have reported feeling more confident in school, as well as in clinical settings and many have told us that they keep coming to Debating Mental health, even when they feel unable to attend other activities, or even school, because the programme provides a safe space for them to interact with peers with similar experiences.
It is supporting staff to engage with young people and have discussions about mental health that might not otherwise happen. It allows staff to challenge themselves on what they think they know about young people’s opinions. An excellent example of this was at the programme launch event, which was attended by young people and professionals. The topic that was debated that evening was ‘This House Believes That: The future of children and young people’s mental health care lies in peer support.’ A floor debate was incorporated, to allow young people and professionals to share their thoughts and conversations continued after the debate, with staff seeking conversations specifically with young people.
The first round of this programme will culminate in a final day of debate and celebration, to be hosted at Facebook’s UK HQ in April 2017. Participants of the programme will come together with mental health professionals and decision-makers to discuss key mental health topics that matter to young people, so that young people can hold decision makers to account.
Wider Active Support
The programme was conceived by Laura Tyrrell, of South West London and St. George’s NHS Mental Health Trust. It is funded by London and SE CYP IAPT Learning Collaborative (housed by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families). The English-Speaking Union created the bespoke training curriculum and provides excellent caliber mentors (coaches on the programme). A free training session on ‘working with young people with mental health support needs’ was delivered to the English-Speaking Union mentors, by clinical staff at the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families. The programme is widely supported by numerous staff in each of these organisations and would not work without the expertise of the different organisations.
We also work very closely with the participation officers in services who have groups participating in the programme, to ensure that training sessions run smoothly and are effective for the young people involved. These services are: South West London and St. George’s NHS Mental Health Trust CAMHS (in Merton, Richmond and Sutton); Central and North West London Mental HealthTrust CAMHS (in Harrow and Kensingston, Chelsea and Westminster); Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health Trust CAMHS (in Barnet); Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families (in Islington) and; Minding the Gap (in Camden).
Facebook are also supporting the programme by hosting our final event.
The programme was developed as a result of conversations with young people in South West London and St. George’s NHS Mental Health Trust participation groups, who recognised that the culture within mental health service delivery is shifting to place greater emphasis on the voice of the service user, but that there was little opportunity for young people to develop the skills they felt they needed to be able to use their voice effectively.
On the programme itself, young people set their own goals with respect to what they want to achieve/get out of the programme and sessions are tailored according to these needs.
Young people are also involved in shaping their own learning as they informally feed back to mentors on what is/is not working for them and what they would like to develop. They also choose the focus for discussions and debates within sessions and will be voting on the topics they most want to debate at the final event.
Looking Back/Challenges Faced
Some of the services we work with have struggled to recruit and retain participants on the programme. In future rounds, we would hope to have some trial sessions to help young people decide whether this is the correct prorgamme for them before they sign up.
The core programme was initially designed to one once a week for 12 weeks. A number of young people have really enjoyed this model, but some told us that this length of commitment was difficult for them and wasn’t something they felt able to commit to. As a result, we looked at our resources and offered the same number of hours of teaching, in condensed periods e.g. a number of half day sessions, rather than weekly hour long sessions. This flexibility has enabled even more young people to participate and we will be offering the programme with this flexibility to choose session times and length in future models of the programme.
The curriculum has been designed so that it can be delivered in services by participation staff, although it is currently delivered by English-Speaking Union mentors, as participation workers decided they would like to see the programme in action before embarking on delivering it themselves.
We are also going to be supporting young people to become co-facilitators once they have completed the first round of the programme.
Additionally, as this programme has been built on partnership, there are a number of staff involved in different ways, which means that if any members were to move on, there are plenty of other staff members who have supported this first round and could fill in any gaps.
Evaluation (Peer or Academic)
Young people self-evaluate on a weekly basis and at three points during the programme (beginning, middle, end). They will also receive a report before the final event, to document their progress from the perspective of the mentor.
We will be using young people’s self-evaluation in conjunction with vox pops and opinion polls, as well as feedback from participation officers and mentors to evaluate this programme pilot before we move on to deliver subsequent rounds.
We believe that sharing our work is an essential component of what we’re doing. We invited a range of professionals (both those involved and not involved in the programme) to our launch event. We have plans to share young people’s stories in the form of blogs on our website and with various media outlets. We will also be ensuring that we invite a broad range of stakeholders to our final event in April, to showcase the programme and what the young people have achieved by being part of it. We also hope to film this event.
Is there any other information you would like to add?
This programme is currently in its first year. We hope to take what we have learnt in this first year to run subsequent iterations of the programme and support even more young people going forward.