Young people across Cornwall will help to create an online museum and explore whether it can improve their mental health, as part of a ground-breaking project involving the University of Plymouth.
The £2.6m five-year ORIGIN project, funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), is a collaboration between NHS trusts and universities, working in partnership with museums and charities.
It will see diverse communities of young people aged 16 to 24 co-designing an online arts and culture intervention aimed at reducing anxiety and depression.
Its effectiveness will then be tested in a trial of nearly 1,500 young people, including LGBTQ+ and autistic young people, ethnic minorities and those who live in some of the most deprived areas of the UK.
The ORIGIN project is being hosted by Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, and led by researchers from Oxford University, with collaborators in the South West including the University of Plymouth, Cornwall Museums Partnership, Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Cornwall-based Making Waves, Dreadnought and Speak Up Cornwall, and Imagineear.
It will build 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 reduced negative feelings when compared with a traditional museum website.
Dr Rebecca Syed Sheriff, an NHS consultant psychiatrist and senior clinical researcher at Oxford University, is leading this programme. She 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, is 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.”
The South West elements of the project will be led by
Professor Rohit Shankar, Professor of Neuropsychiatry at the University of Plymouth and Director of its CIDER – Cornwall Intellectual Disability Equitable Research unit.
As well as contributing to the overall programme, he will lead a package of work focused on autistic young people and how they engage with arts, culture and communities.
This particular work will ensure sensory and communication needs are addressed, that safe and reflective spaces are optimised, and that all young people are given every opportunity to contribute to the research regardless of their place on the autistic spectrum.
Professor Shankar, who was made an MBE in 2018 for services to people with Developmental Disabilities in Cornwall , said:
“By engaging young autistic people as research partners, we will ensure their opinion is heard regardless of their preferred method of communication. Also, by listening to parents, teachers, allied professionals and other family members we can develop a rounded picture of the young people’s experiences are shared and supported by those around them. By doing that, we can identify the ways in which existing online interventions are currently delivered and received, and how we can improve their impact through empathy, kindness, care, respect and compassion.”