Oldham young people lead pioneering programme to tackle mental health issues

A pioneering project is drawing on the life experiences of young people to tackle youth mental ill-health.

MH:2K is a powerful youth-led programme which relies on the views of young people to shape the support and services available to them. 

The innovative project, which has piloted in Oldham, sees local 14-25 year olds become ‘Citizen Researchers’, identifying the most important mental health challenges facing local young people, engaging with their peers on these topics and then working with key local decision-makers to make recommendations for change.

In Oldham, the Citizen Researchers’ recommendations include health professionals visiting religious buildings to give talks, and targeting 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 families 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 is for schools and colleges to receive training around social media, with the internet now adding to problems with bullying.

Decision-makers in Oldham have committed to listening to the recommendations, with work on their implementation already underway. An independent evaluator has found “significant potential for improvements in health outcomes” as a result of the project.

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

The project has reached over 600 diverse young people across Oldham, including its 20-strong team of ‘Citizen Researchers’, which includes those with direct experiences of mental health issues and individuals from at risk groups.

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

  • Families and relationships
  • The environment and culture of schools
  • Self-harm
  • Stigma
  • Professional practice 

They produced findings and recommendations on these topics, based on information collected at 42 Roadshow events, attended by 598 other young people.

Over 90 decision-makers and researchers from 27 different organisations across Oldham and Greater Manchester took part in at least one of the project’s events.

A number of people were involved throughout as active members of the local expert panel including Joanne Needham from Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust. Joanne holds a position as Operational Manager at Healthy Young Minds Oldham. The panel was also chaired by Alan Higgins, Director of Public Health at Oldham Council.

Citizen Researcher Zara Akhtar (23), from Oldham, battled anxiety and depression after graduating from university and last year experienced 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. 

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.