to top

Online arts and culture for young people’s mental health – new research programme announced

3 Apr 2023

Young people will help create an ‘online museum’ as a way of improving their mental health, as part of a new and ground-breaking £2.61m research project led by Oxford University and funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR).

The project, known as ORIGIN (Optimising cultural expeRIences for mental health in underrepresented younG people onLIne), will run from 2023-2028 and is a collaboration between UK universities, museums and charities. The study involves underrepresented young people aged 16-24 co-designing an online arts and culture intervention aimed at reducing anxiety and depression. Sheffield Hallam University’s Lab4Living is one of the partner organisations and will be leading the co-design activities.

The project’s effectiveness will then be tested in a trial of nearly 1,500 young people. It will be tested in some of the most underrepresented young people, including LGBTQ+ and autistic young people, ethnic minorities and those who live in some of the most deprived areas of the UK, including Cornwall, Liverpool, Sheffield and Blackpool and those on NHS waiting lists for mental health support.

ORIGIN builds on preliminary research in which a co-designed online cultural experience called ‘Ways of Being’. Despite limited time and resources in developing Ways of Being, 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, led the preliminary work and is leading this programme. Rebecca says:

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, are inaccessible and unacceptable to many young people.

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.

This programme could have significant implications for how we integrate arts and culture in improving young people’s mental health in the future in a way that is engaging and accessible across diverse young people.

Dr Rebecca Syed Sheriff, University of Oxford, Project leader

Lab4Living will recruit a team of young people from underrepresented backgrounds as co-design researchers, to explore and develop the content for the ‘Ways of Being’ platform.

This will be a wonderful opportunity for us to learn from these young people, and to better understand the power of co-design in giving voice to people who are not listened to by society and the systems we live in.

Joe Langley, Lab4Living co-investigator

As well as co-designing the intervention, diverse young people will be an active part of the research team, and will help shape the research and interpret the findings. The advisory board for the project will include young people, teachers, carers, charity workers, social workers, health professionals and people who work in arts and culture.

Louise Chandler, 21, worked on the previous Ways of Being study and will be involved in the implementation of Origin:

“It felt powerful to have such agency over the preliminary project and to know that what we contributed really made a difference. It benefited my mental health to know that I was involved in a project so meaningful.

This project is a really new and exciting way of working, not only because young people are co-producing the research and the intervention – but also because it will be reaching under-represented groups such as autistic and LGBTQ+ young people. 

I wish something like this would have been available to me when I needed support and I hope it paves the way for young people to be more involved in mental health research.

Louise Chandler

Find out more about the Ways of Being intervention produced as part of the Online Active Community Engagement (O-ACE) project.

Collaborators on ORIGIN include the University of Liverpool, University of Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam University, University College London, University of Plymouth, University of Cambridge, London School of Economics. Partners include National Videogame Museum, National Museums Liverpool, Cornwall Museums Partnership, Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Cornwall-based Making Waves, Dreadnought and Speak Up Cornwall, and Imagineear.

Read more >> University of Oxford Press release 03 Apr 2023: ORIGIN

About this project >> ORIGIN: Online arts and culture for young people’s mental health

Screenshot of the 'Ways of Being' pilot showing a number of circles on a black background. Each circle on the screen represents a historical figure you can click on to explore though the online museum.
A screenshot of the Ways Of Being website. Ways of Being © University of Oxford and Imagineear Lt