Youth partnership in suicide prevention research: fostering authenticity, collaboration and empowerment.

Maria Michail (GR), Niyah Campbell (GB), Rowmell Hunter (GB), Zaynab Sohawon (GB), Jamie Morgan (GB), Beckye Williams (GB), Kalen Reid (GB)

Suicide is a leading cause of death among young people aged 15 to 29 globally. However, young people with lived experience of self-harm or suicidal behaviour are rarely involved in the design of research that affects them due to concerns about them being ‘too vulnerable’ to influence such research. We believe that shutting youth experts by experience out of involvement perpetuates the historical power differentials in mental health research, excluding those whose voices should be listened to. 

Our team set out to challenge how we conduct research into suicide prevention by placing young people as experts by experience at the forefront of research design, delivery and implementation.  

The Institute for Mental Health Youth Advisory Group (YAG) consists of 12 young people aged between 18 and 25 with lived experience of mental ill-health. This group was formed to provide an avenue through which young experts by experience could shape our research in a way that fosters collaboration and empowerment. 

YAG members set the agenda for our research program by leading priority setting workshops. YAG members meaningfully contributed to the design of research and co-produced a novel, evidence-based resource, #MyGPguide, offering advice and support to young people when seeking help through primary care services for self-harm or suicidal experiences. YAG members led on dissemination activities to promote #MyGPguide including a Twitter chat, generating 16.2 million impressions, and co-authoring an open-access, academic article reflecting on the importance of youth partnership in improving the quality of suicide research. 

#MyGPguide has now been adopted by a range of UK professional groups including safeguarding boards in Wales and health authorities in Derbyshire which feature #MyGPguide on their website as a critical resource for supporting the emotional health and wellbeing of young people. #MyGPguide has reached circa 300 GP practices in the West Midlands.

School of Psychology, University of Birmingham 

The Institute of Advanced Studies, University of Birmingham 

Impact Fund, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham 

Dr Maria Michail (GR) is an Associate Professor and leads the suicide and self-harm research group at the Institute for Mental Health, University of Birmingham. Her work focuses on understanding the processes that underlie self-harm and suicidal behaviour in young people with multiple vulnerabilities; and, using this knowledge to develop evidence-based interventions and policies to improve young people’s care and outcomes. Maria has an extensive track record in citizen science and youth engagement throughout her academic work.  

Niyah Campbell (UK) is the Senior Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement Lead for the School of Psychology, University of Birmingham. His work has been instrumental in developing practices surrounding involvement of experts by experience in research within the Institute for Mental Health, most notably through setting up and sustaining engagement with the IMH YAG. Campbell’s influence extends to with other areas with academia, with notable examples being engagement with the National Centre for Co-ordinating Public Engagement and Wellcome Trust. 

Rowmell Hunter (UK) I am a part of the Youth Advisory Group at the Institute of Mental Health, University of Birmingham, UK. I am passionate about mental health and empowering young adults because we live in a world where it is hard to speak out especially being from an ethnic background. I also work as a Christian theatre actor that make shows about social issues that impact young adults and how we can tackle it. This is important to me as people don't get a chance to share their message or make their stamp in the world because they don't feel heard or appreciated. 

Zaynab Sohawon (UK) I am ZeZe, a 22-year-old young person from the Youth Advisory Group at the Institute for Mental Health. I have lived experience of autism and psychosis. I was sectioned for 4 years as a teen. As a result of working with the Youth Advisory Group, I have co-authored papers, become a peer researcher, and engaged in public speaking events. I am now CEO of my own mental health charity that I have set up and have raised just over £80k. YAG has been transformative and was the catalyst I needed to change my life and the world around me. 

Jamie Morgan (UK) is a youth mental health advocate who has made significant contributions to the field of mental health science. Notable contributions as an IMH YAG member include co-presenting #MyGPGuide at the IAYMH Conference 2022, Copenhagen, providing a keynote speech on involving young experts by experience in mental health research at the PsyYoung Conference 2023, Geneva and co-authoring an academic article (2023) journal on youth partnership in suicide prevention research where he reflected on his experience of being involved in the design of #MyGPguide. Jamie works as Lived Experience Advisor within the Wellcome Trust's Mental Health Team. 

Beckye Williams (UK) recently progressed from the role of IMH YAG member to Youth Involvement Officer for the Institute for Mental Health, University of Birmingham. Having transitioned into a professional post, her role is to provide lead support on youth involvement practices within the IMH. In her time as a YAG member, Williams was directly involved in the design of #MyGPguide notable activities she was involved in co-leading teaching sessions for Medical Students about the importance of taking a person-centred approach to supporting young people with mental health challenges. 

Kalen Reid (UK) has a professional background in working with children and young people in a variety of contexts, including in research. They lead a Youth Violence Intervention team at a Major Trauma Centre where their main responsibility is to manage youth workers who specialise in supporting those who have experienced serious youth violence and other forms of trauma. Kalen is a passionate supporter of participatory and liberatory practices in all spheres of their work and has worked directly with IMH professionals to co-author and disseminate research on self-harm in eating disorders.

This UK-based project pioneers youth involvement in suicide prevention research, showcasing how young people with lived mental health experiences become leaders in shaping clinical practice. The Institute for Mental Health Youth Advisory Group (YAG) collaborates with researchers, co-designing resources like #MyGPguide, which offers vital support to at-risk youth seeking help through their GP. YAG members disseminate resources widely, influencing policy and empowering peers. With 12 engaged citizens, this initiative exemplifies meaningful youth engagement in driving mental health advocacy and systemic change.