Young people to take part in online arts programme to improve mental health

The five-year research programme will create an online cultural experience that aims to reduce anxiety and depression amongst young people

4th April 2023 about a 4 minute read
“This programme could have significant implications for how arts and culture are used to improve the mental health of young people in the future in a way that is engaging and accessible across diverse groups.” Dr Rebecca Syed Sheriff, NHS consultant psychiatrist and senior clinical researcher, University of Oxford

Young people will help create an online museum as a way of improving their own mental health and that of others as part of a new £2.61m research project.

The project, known as ORIGIN (Optimising cultural expeRIences for mental health in underrepresented younG people onlINe), is hosted by Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, and led by researchers from the University of Oxford, with some involvement from museums and charities. Young people aged 16-24 will co-design an arts and culture website aimed at reducing anxiety and depression.

Funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), with additional support from the Applied Research Collaboration Oxford and Thames Valley (ARC OxTV), the programme will run from 2023-28.

When the website has been created, its effectiveness will be tested in a pilot of 1,500 young people from a diverse range of backgrounds, including people from ethnic minorities, with autism, with LGBT identities and those who live in deprived areas of the UK. Some will be drawn from NHS waiting lists for mental health support.

Young people least likely to receive mental health care

ORIGIN builds on preliminary research in which an online cultural experience called Ways of Being was co-designed and tested for mental health in young people. It was enthusiastically received by young people and was found to reduce negative feelings when compared with a traditional museum website.

Dr Rebecca Syed Sheriff, an NHS consultant psychiatrist and senior clinical researcher at the University of Oxford, who is leading the programme, said: “Most mental health problems start before 25, yet young people are the least likely to receive mental health care, with some groups such as ethnic minorities even less likely. Much of the support currently offered by health services, such as medication and talking therapies are inaccessible and unacceptable to many of the young people who need it most.

“Online support can be more accessible and this exciting project gives us the chance to work with diverse young people on their own terms to co-design an intervention that young people are engaged by and believe in.

“This programme could have significant implications for how arts and culture are used to improve the mental health of young people in the future in a way that is engaging and accessible across diverse groups.”

Helen Adams, from the University of Oxford’s Gardens, Libraries and Museums, which is a partner on the project, said that in the previous research, young people had said they wanted to connect with the experiences of different people across the world and throughout history, told from different perspectives. She added: “Museums and other cultural institutions have the potential to meet this need but recognise that many stories embedded in their collections of artworks and artefacts are yet to be unlocked. Museums strive to create safe and inclusive spaces both in person and online, but know they are not always seen as accessible or relevant by many young people.”

A new and exciting way of working

The advisory board for the project will include young people, teachers, carers, charity workers, social workers, health professionals and people who work in arts and culture. Louise Chandler, 21, who worked on the previous Ways of Being study and will be involved in the implementation of ORIGIN, said:

“It felt powerful to have such agency over the preliminary project and to know that what we contributed really made a difference. It benefited my mental health to know that I was involved in a project so meaningful.

“This project is a really new and exciting way of working, not only because young people are co-producing the research and the intervention – but also because it will be reaching under-represented groups such as autistic and LGBTQ+ young people.

“I wish something like this would have been available to me when I needed support and I hope it paves the way for young people to be more involved in mental health research.”

FCC Insight

At a time when rates of mental health problems among young people are soaring, we’re delighted to see a health trust and university collaborating to devise an innovative approach to improving mental wellbeing. As Dr Syed points out, medication and talking therapies are often inaccessible to young people, so a project like this could prove a helpful alternative that will enable young people to boost their mental health by engaging with cultural artefacts from across the world.