Listening to young people’s mental health stories to guide recovery now and into the future
Stephanie Vasiliou, Head of Global Impact, Batyr, Australia
When the world goes through so many challenging times at once, it can be easy to lose sight of the hopeful things around us. While during the Covid-19 pandemic we have had to get used to keeping our distance from one another causing disconnection, I have found that the world has never felt more interconnected. Despite individual differences across countries, cultures and communities, one of the greatest commonalities that underpins us all, is the power of our stories.
At batyr Australia, we have been supporting young people to learn how to share their mental health stories in a safe and effective way since 2011. With a focus on hope, resiliency and how we can use our stories as a tool to create change, I have been fortunate to see the ripple effect positive stories around mental health can have not only in changing lives, but in influencing the broader system, no matter where we are.
What can stories achieve?
In 2020, Genesis Lindstrom of Griffith University analysed the impact of learning how to safely share a young person’s lived experience story through batyr’s comprehensive Being Herd storytelling training. Being Herd has supported close to 1000 young Australians to learn how to share their mental health stories based on best practice principles shaped over the years. Findings demonstrated:
- decreases in levels of self-stigma
- increases in self-confidence, self-acceptance, resiliency, courage and wellbeing
- shifts within social circles, enabling others to be more open about their own mental health themselves.
Lived-experience plays an invaluable role in every aspect of driving change around mental health. Research tells us that peer-to-peer contact and lived-experience storytelling is one of the greatest ways of creating behavioural change and reducing stigma. By hearing from someone we relate to, the messages are credible and taking action feels more realistic. With countless barriers limiting open dialogue around mental health, it is encouraging to see how embracing vulnerability, and using our stories as a vehicle for hope, has the ability to cut through these barriers and multiply positive effects.
What are we learning from people’s mental health stories?
Advocacy, research, policy and services are strengthened when lived-experience is at the centre of them. By listening to these experiences, there are invaluable insights we can learn.
Supported by the National Mental Health Commission of Australia, batyr partnered with researchers at ConNetica to conduct a thematic analysis on young people’s stories to learn what commonly contributed to experiences of mental ill-health and recovery.
Some of the factors contributing to mental ill-health identified were:
- High expectations on young people from parents, society or at times themselves
Factors contributing to recovery included:
- High quality therapeutic relationships
- Receiving unconditional love. Having an anchor person who held onto hope when it was difficult to do so themselves was significant.
These findings tell us that there are a number of core factors that are shared across many young people’s experiences. The opportunity exists to make decisions around funding and treatment in line with these types of insights. But this is only the start. The question to me is, how do we build on this type of information, and act on it?
Digging deeper to learn and take action
In order to take a deeper understanding of the experiences of young people, the team and I at batyr will be looking to drive a globally collaborative, youth insights report commencing in 2021 with three key components:
- Rich data and findings through collaborative relationships with young people, researchers and organisations internationally. This report will be an opportunity for cross-cultural learning and to understand trends and differences across countries.
- Co-design from the commencement of the project to ensure young people are central to the entire process. Employing best practice co-design principles will help ensure the report and recommendations reflect what young people are experiencing and what young people need.
- An engaging, wide-reaching international strategy and implementation plan to translate findings into action. This will be guided through the participatory design process and reach partners worldwide.
This initiative will include the collection and analysis of data from batyr’s OurHerd digital storytelling app. Guided by our best practice storytelling model, the app supports young people anywhere in being able to share their story and access stories from peers. The app is being built to analyse data and insights to inform various sectors, so that these experiences remain central to decisions made that affect the lives and futures of young people. We need support to reach the potential these projects have, and are looking forward to seeing how these initiatives bridge knowledge internationally.
Acting now while looking forward
With so little funding worldwide going to preventative mental health initiatives, forging pathways to work together, share knowledge and truly listening to what young people are saying is paramount. By embracing vulnerability and owning our past experiences to shape the future, I believe only then will we start to see a greater cultural shift around mental health, one story at a time.
To find out more about the Global Mental Health Action Network, click here.