Engaging youth in mental health research in the COVID‑19 pandemic context via a youth co-design arts-based approach

Woodgate, Roberta | $168,937

Manitoba University of Manitoba 2021 SSHRC

The COVID‑19 pandemic has exacerbated youth mental health (MH) outcomes. Globally, the pandemic has also changed research methods as a result of social distancing mandates and lockdowns, limiting in-person research methods. These restrictions can especially pose a challenge for participatory arts-based methods (ABM) that heavily rely on the relationship and collaboration between researcher and participant.

Particularly in MH and youth well-being research, ABM (e.g., photovoice, drawing, body mapping) has been shown to be effective in elucidating youth’s needs and MH challenges which deepens the understanding of their MH. Youth have described ABM to be empowering and useful in promoting self-confidence and dialogue, as well as an accessible and innovative way to share their lived experiences. ABM has been found to reduce the power imbalances between researchers and youth which is important given youth have been traditionally excluded in the generation of knowledge.

While there are studies reporting on how researchers have adapted their research protocols and ABM during the pandemic, lacking is work focused on the use of ABM in youth research including MH research. Youth’s voices are needed with respect to the best ways to conduct research in crisis contexts. Going forward, we require a new and innovative approach that moves beyond the sole reliance of adult researchers adapting arts-based research methods. Given the lasting and disproportionate impact that COVID‑19 has had, and will continue to have on youth MH, who better to lead the charge than youth themselves in the co-designing of an innovative approach to engaging youth in MH research.

The purpose of this project is to have youth co-design a new approach to arts-based research that can be applied in MH research and is transferable to other research involving youth. Over two years, youth co-researchers will co-design, implement and evaluate a new arts-based approach that promotes the active engagement of youth in MH research. This proposed work is innovative as it aims to create new ways of conducting meaningful youth MH research developed in real time by those most impacted, youth themselves. It will yield new information on research utilizing ABM with youth that can be applied virtually and used in a variety of different emergency contexts. Overall, this work will result in the development of innovative strategies to utilize ABM with youth in a post-pandemic world.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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