Debating Mental Health

We empower young people (up to the age of 25) with mental health needs to speak out on the topics in mental health that matter to them by equipping them with the skills, confidence and knowledge they need to do so. We do not require young people to have used, or be attached to a mental health service, as we recognise that not all young people are able/want to reach services to support with their mental health needs. Once young people have participated in our training sessions, we support them to speak out on a variety of platforms, to engage with decision makers and, where relevant, to work towards leading change within mental health

Highly Commended - National CYPMH Awards 2019


  • From start: Yes
  • During process: Yes
  • In evaluation: No


  • Peer: Yes
  • Academic: No
  • PP Collaborative: Yes

Find out more


What We Did

We empower young people (up to the age of 25) with mental health needs to speak out on the topics in mental health that matter to them by equipping them with the skills, confidence and knowledge they need to do so. We do not require young people to have used, or be attached to a mental health service, as we recognise that not all young people are able/want to reach services to support with their mental health needs. Once young people have participated in our training sessions, we support them to speak out on a variety of platforms, to engage with decision makers and, where relevant, to work towards leading change within mental health. Our work supports young people to develop their confidence, to learn key skills, to get their voices heard and, where this is desired, to drive action and deliver change within the mental health sector.

Most recently, we have supported young people to deliver the ‘Children, Young People and the Now Generation’ work stream at the first Global Ministerial Mental Health Summit, hosted in London in October 2018. 10 young people from around the the UK were selected to deliver the work stream. They selected and presented ‘Best Practice’ case studies from across different children and young people’s mental health specialities and from across different global regions. The young people chose these case studies themselves and also decided how to present them (through a range of activities, rather than as ‘traditional’ presentations). They also facilitated delegate discussion that informed the work stream’s recommendations, which were submitted to Ministers and fed into the creation of the Summits’ ‘Declaration on Achieving Equality for Mental Health in the 21st Century.’ As part of the Summit, some young people met and presented to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, one was interviewed on Radio 5 Live and several were invited to the Prime Minister’s reception for World Mental Health Day, which was held at 10 Downing Street.

Also in October, we teamed up with King’s College University, London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, to host a special ‘Maudsley Debates’ event. The Maudsley Debates take place three times a year at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College London. Topics generally focus on issues that have a direct impact on mental health services, service users and mental health professionals. This was the first event to feature a full panel of people with experience of mental health needs and also the first debate on a young people’s topic to be led by young people themselves. Young people were involved in the selection of the debate motion, which was “This House Believes: That people below the age of 18 should never be detained under the Mental Health Act.” Young people debated in favour and against the motion, in front of a live audience. With both of these examples, young people were selected especially for the events and received specialist training and support to take part and speak out.

The young people received an excellent package of training, which helped them to participate in these events, made sure their voices were heard and gave them confidence in themselves and what they have to say. In addition, the young people have said that they have made new friends through participation in our activities and feel more confident in their lives outside of mental health activism too. Naz, one of the young people involved in both of these (and previous) events said: “I feel like I’ve been part of something really important that will bring about positive change in the mental health community that we so greatly need. It was so amazing to meet such inspirational people from around the world. A few years ago I would never have pictured myself being part of such great opportunities like this but I’m proud of how far I’ve come and I hope together we can show that people with mental illness deserve to be taken seriously and have better involvement in their care.”


Wider Active Support

All of our work is delivered in conjunction with partner organisations, as we recognise the benefits of combining different areas of expertise. We often work locally with services, who may have direct relationships with the young people we hope to work with and/or the decision makers they hope to influence. We then bring the training, debate and participation expertise and our partners bring local area and often, specialist subject area expertise. So far we have worked with: The Royal College of Paediatric and Child Health; The Royal College of Psychiatrists (CAMHS Academic Secretary); King’s College London; The UK Government, OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] and WHO [World Health Organisation], who jointly organised and hosted the Global Ministerial Mental Health Summit; Youth Access and; a number of academics, local organisations and other organisations working in similar areas.



Everything we do is about co-production. We recognise that in order to participate fully and meaningfully, young people need to learn and develop certain skills, so we train them in relevant skills and then support them to speak out where and how they want to. All young people we work with receive specialist training ahead of participating in our opportunities and this training is designed to be interactive and participatory, so that young people get the most out of it and focus on the areas of development they feel are most relevant or important to them. For example, a group may decide that they want to focus on presentation skills, or on improving their critical thinking and reflection skills.

Our training is delivered through a framework designed to develop a range of skills, but the young people are always given choices within the training. After receiving training, we support young people to access opportunities where they can speak out and, if desired, lead change. The idea here is that, having received the relevant training, young people are then equipped to work closely with decision-makers, letting them know what is important to them, suggesting improvements and, whenever possible, working with decision-makers to implement these improvements. In this way, we facilitate co-production in other services and settings, and this is something we are currently developing plans on to make what we do even stronger with regards co-production. In addition to our training being participatory, we also ensure that young people make decisions about the speaking opportunities they access.

For example, at the Global Ministerial Mental Health Summit (mentioned above), the young people selected the case studies they wished to present and how they wanted to present these. The group selected a number of activities, based on activities used in our training sessions and wanted to ensure that the audience were actively engaged. At the event delivered in conjunction with Maudsley Debates, young people were involved in selecting the motion (they did receive some guidance, as they hadn’t generated motions before) and also created their own debate arguments, cases and rebuttal. In this case, the young people were trained in how to speak, rather than what to say, as we felt it was important that their cases were developed independently to reflect young people’s views and experiences.


Looking Back/Challenges Faced

Having been very focused on the delivery of the projects and, working independently on the project outside of other work, it has been difficult to manage to complete every aspect that I would have liked. I have managed to collect feedback, but have learnt that, going forward this needs to be planned more carefully and should ideally include more goals and skills tracking with young people involved. Running an organisation single-handedly has proven a challenge, but through it, I have learnt how to draw effectively on the skills and support of those around me, my networks and the young people I work with, as well as how to be more efficient with my time and take breaks to look after my own well-being.



Currently, this is a very new organisation, but, as I am in the process of registering it (as per February 2019), I am fully committed to the development and management of it and want to see it succeed. Going forward, I plan to work with young people who have participated in opportunities with the organisation and support them to become co-facilitators. In this way, I hope that the organisational direction and output can be heavily influenced, not only by young people with lived-experience of mental health needs, but also by young people with direct experience of participation in our programmes. This year, I hope to formalise the participant application process and develop a pathway for young people who wish to volunteer with Debating Mental Health, after they have participated in our programmes. All of these measures will ensure that knowledge of our training programmes and processes will exist beyond myself as company Director, meaning that, in the future, I will hopefully be able to employ staff, so that the future of our programmes becomes more secure.


Evaluation (Peer or Academic)

We have not yet undertaken a formal evaluation, as, unfortunately, there is a lot to attend to in setting up and running an organisation. We have received a lot of positive feedback on our work from the young people and partners we have worked with and intend to undertake a fuller and more formal evaluation in the coming months and on all future projects going forward. Here is a selection of the feedback we have received in recent months: “Participating at the Global Ministerial Summit for Mental Health, as a young person, with Debating Mental Health, was empowering and eye-opening. It was a fantastic platform upon which to use my voice and expertise, alongside that of other young people, and I felt privileged to be able to work with leaders in their field and ministers from around the world.”-Lucy, Participant “The Summit was an incredible experience and I feel privileged to have been invited. Whilst I would never have chose to experience mental health difficulties, I am glad to have been able to turn what could be perceived as a wholly negative situation into something positive, and help to hopefully create change across the world.

It was great to see different people, ranging from royals and politicians to young people all working together for a common cause.”-Rebekah, Participant “…it was a very empowering experience and I have learnt skills that I will most definitely continue to use. It helped me to get past the fear of being judged for what I say and it has given me a sense of freedom. I have come to realise that people have different opinions and that’s ok – everyone’s opinion is valid and should be respected. Additionally, I have learnt that it is ok to make mistakes and to get things ‘wrong’ – it’s how we learn! I have also met an inspiring group of young people with whom I share a passion to make a positive difference in the world of mental health and on a more general scale. These people have become good friends and I am proud of what they have achieved.” Rose-Anne, Participant “The young people’s debate at the Annual Residential CAMHS Faculty  Conference was utterly magical. Four young people from diverse backgroundsdebated one of the hot topics of our time: access to CAMHS services. The  training they had  received from Laura Wallis from Debating Mental Health ensured that all four  participated enthusiastically and explored  the topic from all angles. The audience was so galvanised that the chair had to  close down their questions 25 minutes  after the programme end.” Dr. Helen Minnis, Academic Secretary for  the CAMHS Faculty of the Royal College of  Psychiatrists “The contribution by you at  Debating Mental Health in  bringing together a diverse  group of young people from  the UK who presented case  studies and developed  recommendations to give to  ministers was, for me, the  highlight of the summit. Several ministers  commented to me on how  much they appreciated the  fact that young experts-by-experience were involved and  that their voice was heard.”  Mark Pearson, Deputy  Director, Directorate for Employment,  Labour and Social Affairs,  OECD



The young people we work with develop a number of skills through participating in our programmes and opportunities, including: · Research skills · Team working · Empathy · Learning how to use their voice · Empowerment · Structuring an argument · CV-skills · Interview and workplace skills · Self-esteem and confidence · Resilience. These benefits are even greater for children and young people with mental health support needs, as many of these young people will have experienced issues with low self-esteem and low self-confidence. Problems with low self-esteem and low self-confidence may prevent young people from fully engaging at school or with mental health services and professionals they may be in contact with. By empowering young people to speak out and be heard through debating, we support them to realise that their voice is powerful and that what they have to say is important. They also learn how to say what they have to say in a way that means they will be heard. That’s important because when children and young people believe in themselves, they engage better in school and feel hopeful for their futures, which improves their chances of success in whatever they decide they want to do. In addition to developing skills, raising their voices and being heard, we are working with young people to have a real influence over children and young people’s mental health policy and practice, to ensure that policies and services are relevant and helpful to them. This is something we will be particularly focusing on throughout 2019 as we look to develop new ways of thinking and new practice across children and young people’s participation in the sector, which listen to young people and then also empower them to lead change and deliver action on what matters to them in mental health and to support decision-makers and professionals to find new and sustainable solutions to on-going problems.



We are keen to share our work and regularly attend networking events, including participation network events. We have a few speaking engagements booked this year, including at a conference at the University of Portsmouth. We also regularly network and share ideas with others running their own companies or freelancing in the children and young people’s mental health sector, as we believe that sharing good practice, enables everyone to further improve their practice and we know that we also benefit from these transactions.


Is there any other information you would like to add?

This is a new organisation that I (Laura, the company Director) am currently working hard to develop, manage and run. Although some of the work I do is paid, much is currently voluntary, although I am working to change this as I become more established.


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