Engaging youth and families in designing a mental health service plan in response to the COVID‑19 pandemic: A participatory action research study
Youth are at risk of experiencing poor mental health due to the daily life changes associated with COVID‑19 pandemic, and evidence from youth and parents reveals that this is the trend. Data suggest that the pandemic-related changes in youth mental health may lead to more youth accessing services in the future. Therefore, our healthcare system should be ready to meet the needs of youth. However, during the pandemic how, what and to whom services were delivered also changed, namely with the shift to online services. These changes were made quickly and did not involve any input from youth or their families. As society recovers from the pandemic, we need to figure out who to help, what help they need, and how best to offer services that benefit them. Involving youth and families in service planning is the best way to arrive at solutions most acceptable to youth and lead to mental health improvements. In this study, youth and families will be equal members of the research team and will be fully involved in organizing focus groups to (1) Understand what the mental health service needs, preferences and experiences of youth and families are, and (2) Create information for how services can be improved to lead to better outcomes. We aim to include participants with various backgrounds and experiences to improve the diversity and applicability of our findings. This study will involve multiple phases, from determining the research questions to presenting the findings, all of which will be shaped by youth and families, to reflect their interests and needs. What we learn from the focus groups will be used to create tools that can be used by youth and families, health providers, policy makers, and researchers to support the best possible service delivery and mental health outcomes during and after the pandemic. Relationships with mental health organizations will help us to share our findings more widely and promote long-standing changes to mental health care for youth.