Existent literature on youth participation in mental health services is unequivocal about the benefits of participation. James (2007), for example, suggests that, in order to develop mental health services that are youth-friendly, services need to listen to young people and continually respond to what they hear. Similarly, Day (2008) contends that service user involvement in planning will lead to better quality services, responsive to the needs of, and relevant to, young people. Meanwhile Wong, Zimmerman and Parker (2010) point to the rapidly evolving nature of youth culture and propose that youth participation can help services keep in touch with young people. According to Zeldin (2004), the importance of youth participation is also increasingly acknowledged in organisational policy. Internationally we have seen a growing development in the calls to incorporate the voice of young people in the development of mental health care (Howe et al., 2011). The government in Ireland has committed to a range of activities to ensure young people are consulted and involved in decision-making, including strengthening participation in decision-making for health and wellbeing (Department of Children and Youth Affairs, 2014; 2015). The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) (1989), which has been ratified by Ireland, advocates youth participation as a right. Article 12 of the UNCRC outlines that a child capable of forming views has a right to express those views freely. This applies to all matters that affect the child and that views must be given due weight in accordance with age and maturity. Young people are increasingly seen as assets that enable positive change and are beginning to play a significant role in many organisations.
Resilience refers to an individual’s capacity to successfully adapt to change and stressful events in healthy and constructive ways (Catalano et al., 2002). Building skills that help to promote resilience in young people is important in the enhancement of their mental health (Oliver et al., 2006). Many studies on resilience conclude that young people acquire critical, adaptive skills through participation (Olsson et al., 2003). While the importance of youth participation in mental health services is widely acknowledged, there remains a paucity of literature regarding young people’s experiences of participation (Collin et al, 2012; Monson and Thurley, 2011; Howe et al., 2011). This research adds to the literature by exploring the experiences of young people on the Youth Advisory Panel (YAP) of Jigsaw (formally Headstrong) - the National Centre for Youth Mental Health – here presenting findings relating to young people’s resilience. Jigsaw is working to change how Ireland thinks about and responds to young people’s mental health. Jigsaw rely on research to improve its mental health services as it affords an understanding of the challenges that face young people. Through engagement, Jigsaw is changing the conversation about mental health from one of stigma and mental illness to one of openness and resilience. With the provision of services young people are achieving better mental health and well-being. The YAP is comprised of young people aged 16-25 from across Ireland who come together to work in conjunction with staff in Jigsaw to deliver on its mission. It means involving young people in decisions in an appropriate, mutually respectful and meaningful manner at every level. Some of the activities the YAP are involved in include attending and participating in team and board meetings, recruitment and induction of staff, the selection, development and design of buildings, promotion of the service and peer education.
Data was collected from ten members of the YAP through semi-structured interviews and was analysed using thematic analysis underpinned by a phenomenological theoretical framework. The questions were informed by the literature review and by the information that the researcher wanted to acquire from the process. The questions were then reviewed by one of the members of the YAP to ensure they were understandable, relevant and age appropriate. According to Willig (2013), thematic analysis is a good method to analyse data from semi-structured interviews. Thematic analysis is considered a relevant method to explore experiences, meanings, and the reality of participants (Braun and Clarke, 2006). One of its main benefits is that it can be adapted to different situations (ibid.) and is particularly suitable for addressing particular social phenomena (Willig, 2013). The researcher considered this a suitable method to analyse the data, which explored the social phenomena of the young participant’s experience of being part of the YAP. Phenomenology is concerned with how people make sense of the world they are involved in (Bryman, 2012). According to Willig (2013), phenomenological research aims to elicit information about experience. Phenomenological research was selected, as the aim of the research was to find out what motivates young people to get involved and to continue involvement in the YAP.
The study was ethically approved by both Trinity College Research Ethics Approval Committee and Jigsaw. Informed consent was received from all ten participants. Participants were given a week to consider their participation. The consent form was sent to the participants along with an information sheet once expression of interest was indicated. The voluntary nature of the participation was emphasised throughout both forms and the interviewees were made aware that they could withdraw from the study at any stage without giving a reason. Participants were made aware that their participation in the study would be kept confidential and that no identifying information would be reported. Participants were made aware of limits to confidentiality. They were informed that if they disclose that they themselves or someone else was in danger this would need to be reported to the relevant authorities. This was discussed with the Director of Clinical Governance at Jigsaw and a plan was put in place to address this. All participants were made aware that the Director of Clinical Governance was their point of contact should the interview process cause them any distress, either before, during or afterwards. They were also informed of other relevant services should they need additional support. At the time of the research, I was a member of Jigsaw’s Youth Advisory Panel and thus would be considered an insider researcher (Simons, 2006). Maxwell (2009) states that personal reasons are not simply a source of bias but a valuable insight. LaSala (2003) advocates that being part of a community gives a greater understanding of viewpoint. Furthermore, he argues that being part of a community enables the researcher to formulate appropriate questions that might not occur to those from outside.
Emerging themes and discussion
A number of themes emerged from the literature relating to resilience, they are as follows:
The important role played by the staff in Jigsaw in supporting the work of the YAP was viewed by the respondents in this research as an essential element to their effective participation. One participant explained how
they respect and are willing to work with young people and not be patronising towards them.
Another spoke of how the
staff have always been really good in helping us do our job and getting the best out of us without being forceful.
These findings are consistent with previous research. For example, O’Donoghue et al (2002) cites the important role that adults play in youth participation by providing guidance, information and resources. Similarly, the My World survey (Dooley and Fitzgerald, 2012) stresses that the presence of ‘One Good Adult’ in a young person’s life is a protective factor towards their mental health.
Being a member of the YAP provided members with new skills that contributed to both personal and professional development including communication, organisational and facilitation skills. All the participants spoke about the skills they acquired. For example, one young woman stated
I have learned so much about mental health and how organisations work, I don’t think college can be compared to it.
Similarly, another suggested that participation in the YAP provided
an opportunity to build on your skills and learn new ones and to grow in self-confidence.
Collin et al.’s study (2012) also indicates that youth participants reported an increase in new skills.
Most young people involved in the study said that their involvement gave them a sense of life satisfaction. The members of the YAP spoke of how they enjoyed the experience. They enjoyed meeting and working with the members who had become their friends. It improved their feeling of life satisfaction. One participant spoke about how he got
enormous life satisfaction, feeling like you’re doing something meaningful.
Youth involvement helps to foster resilience in young people when giving them a sense of belonging and connectivity (Oliver et al, 2006).
Making a difference
Making a difference was another theme that emerged from the data. One of the most important reasons for young people’s participation with Jigsaw was the benefit they saw nationally and in their communities. The following are a selection of comments related to making a difference:
Mental health is an issue that really needs to be dealt with and I think Headstrong [now Jigsaw] is one of the only organisations that give young people an opportunity to engage with it.
I saw it as an issue, the biggest issue for young people and it affects their whole lives, and affects everyone around them.
There was a lot of suicides and negative stigma around mental health that’s why I focused more on mental health as opposed to other social issues.
When young people can see they are making a difference they are more likely to continue in the process of youth participation (Zeldin and MacNeil, 2006). Collin et al (2012) identified that young people value being part of an organisation
with shared goals and values and working with the organisation to achieve its overall goals. The members of the YAP involved in this study recognised the importance of the mental health issues that affect many young people throughout Ireland. They were all passionate about contributing to making a difference and improving the mental health status of all young people.
Youth participation is not without its challenges. This paper focuses on the factors that most impacted on the young people’s resilience. The overall study demonstrated the complexity of the issue with barriers and disadvantages also coming out as themes in the research. The barriers to involvement included time, travel, lack of training and some staffing issues. The presumption by Jigsaw that all members of the YAP would engage in social media interaction was viewed as a disadvantage. Another disadvantage highlighted in the research was confusion about the role of YAP members with some people seeing them as service users and others as professionals as opposed to advisors.
The right of young people to be involved in issues that affect them has been increasingly recognised. This research explored the experiences of young people on the Youth Advisory Panel (YAP) of Jigsaw and here I have outlined the aspects of young people’s experiences that impact on young people’s resilience. Staff and the organisational culture were seen as important factors in enabling youth participation. The participants benefited from training and acquiring new skills, friendships, increased knowledge around mental health, new opportunities, increased confidence and life satisfaction. Making a difference was identified as an important element to participation. Overall, the young people were very positive regarding their involvement in the YAP and felt that it contributed to both personal and professional development. While barriers and disadvantages were identified by the participants, the benefits gained and friendships made along with the support of Jigsaw made their involvement in the YAP a positive meaningful experience that contributed to enhanced resilience.