Why You(th) Should Care About Mental Health Research
This article was written by youth from HBGI’s management team, Interim Board of Directors, and Lived Experience Council (Mariel Sander, Damian Juma, Shuranjeet Singh and Jackee Schess). Thank you to Stephanie Vasiliou of batyr for contributing to this article.
As a youth interested in global mental health, you may have heard the statistics already: from ages 10-24, mental health conditions make up nearly half the overall burden of disease; 75% of mental health conditions emerge by age 24. These figures show that supporting the mental health of young people like us is imperative.
However, even if we scaled up all available approaches, young people would still not receive help they may need. We need to understand what approaches best support youth mental health and use this evidence to influence policymakers and create change in our communities. The key to building this evidence base is mental health research.
But why should you, a youth without formal research training, learn about and get involved in mental health research?
- Research is knowledge, and knowledge is power. Understanding how research is designed, conducted, published, and implemented arms you with information to advocate for change. If you’re well informed, you can go to decision-makers and advocate for better mental health policies and programs in your community.
- Knowledge translation: putting research into action. Getting involved in all stages of research—from agenda setting to implementation—means you can drive what is studied and how it is used.
- Fixing inequities in mental health. Most research is funded both by and in HICs, despite the fact that 90% of today’s youth live in LMICs. Even in research conducted in LMICs, most first authors were still from HICs. We need more youth from around the world to be meaningfully involved so research better reflects their needs.
- Research has benefits for the larger community. Research has been shown to lead to a wide range of economic, social, health, and academic benefits even outside of breakthroughs and publications.
- Using your expertise to help others. You are an expert about your experiences. Researchers and healthcare providers don’t know as much as you do about your experiences and what you need; participating in and leading research can ensure it meets the needs of your community.
- Creating a better world for those who come after. Depending what kind of research you’re involved in, the findings may not lead to change within your lifetime. But by participating in knowledge generation you will leave the world a better place than what you found it, taking one more step towards finding a solution for those who come after you.
Research funders like the Wellcome Trust and Grand Challenges Canada increasingly recognize that we need mental health research responsive to our needs. But this “top-down” cultural shift, while important, is only one half of the puzzle.
We also need change to happen from the “bottom-up”. We as youth need to:
- Advocate for more mental health research that is equitable, empowering, and inclusive and
- Get involved in making the research process more reflective, representative, and relevant
If you’re not involved in mental health research yet, there are a few first steps you can take.
First, you can check out the Healthy Brains Global Initiative’s Resources page to start learning about global mental health research. Let us know what other resources you’d like to see there. You can also get involved with us by participating in our survey and focus groups to set our initial research priorities for depression and anxiety. Finally, follow us on social media to keep informed about our upcoming recruitment cycle for our Lived Experience Council.
Ultimately, we believe mental health research isn’t about having a PhD or a certain background—it’s about being committed to thinking long-term about a future where everybody has access to mental health support that works for them. We hope you’ll join us on this mission.
Who We Are
At the Healthy Brains Global Initiative (HBGI), we are committed to embedding people with lived experiences at every stage of our work. Read more about us here and follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram for more information on how to get involved.
We’re proud to partner with Generation Mental Health, a youth-led organization aiming to empower youth with lived experiences to make a difference in their communities, including in mental health research. Read more about them here and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for updates on ways to get involved.