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Ground-breaking project to improve youth mental health

The findings of a unique project which uses design processes to explore young people’s experiences of mental ill health with the aim of improving services in the future have been presented to commissioners and stakeholders in Norfolk.

The ground-breaking initiative has seen Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) collaborate with University of the Arts London (UAL) to develop recommendations designed to make services for 14 to 25-year-olds more accessible and responsive to their needs.

The project saw students and academics from UAL’s Early Lab spend a week working alongside members of the trust's Youth Council and its clinicians, exploring issues around mental ill health using design techniques such as storyboarding and stop-frame animation.

The Early Lab team has now presented its findings to commissioners, stakeholders and voluntary sector groups from across Norfolk using a series of short films and other materials. Their recommendations include creating a distributed, seamless, integrated service with age-appropriate, one-stop-shops where young people can access support (both offline and online), providing youth services from non-clinical settings, normalising mental health in schools and concentrating on prevention and early intervention.

Tim Clarke, a Research Clinical Psychologist at the trust, said: “This exciting project used design methodologies to bring to life what young people want from mental health services in Norfolk and Suffolk. It was innovative and refreshing and completely different to anything we have done before.

“Members of the Early Lab team visited Norfolk at Easter and worked closely with our Youth Council in particular, all of whom have lived experience of mental ill health and the services which are available. They also linked with our trust's clinicians, representatives from the wider NHS and other stakeholders to gain a full picture of current services as well as ideas for improvement.

“We used a range of materials to explore ideas, which was a really useful way of starting the conversation. During the week, we held workshops with people from partner agencies and the voluntary sector and used illustration and storyboarding to think about how we could all work together to improve access and engagement. Youth Council members were also asked to map their personal networks of support using a range of craft materials on large canvasses.

“The Early Lab brought all of those ideas to life and we hope their work will now spark further conversations, inform local strategy and improve youth mental health services for everyone who needs them.”

As part of the collaboration, the team looked at integrating services more closely and combining health, social care, youth justice and education budgets so that young people could receive seamless services.

They also explored the possibility of placing 'health champions' in schools to support young people as well as the concept of the 'ideal' service, which would be age-appropriate, flexible and accessible via a range of different routes, including the internet and face-to-face consultations.

Youth Council member Katie Davis added: “This was such a new and different concept to work with. I feel that the fact we worked together so well is amazing and shows that two passions; mental health and art and design, can collide to form something beneficial and inspiring.”

Nick Bell, UAL Early Lab co-founder and Chair of Communication Design, said: “This has been a hugely enjoyable project for us. It is also a very successful project in terms of research for us, and in terms of it being a very positive and revelatory experience for the Youth Council and clinicians. We are really excited by the findings and look forward to seeing them have a positive impact on service transformation.”

Members of the Youth Council and the Early Lab team will give a presentation about the collaboration at the International Association for Youth Mental Health (IAYMH) conference in Montreal, Canada in October. Commissioners are also aiming to use the findings to guide their decisions when planning future services.

To watch the videos created by the team, please click here

You can read blogs written by people involved in the project by clicking here