Monday 14 June 2021

Agency in Youth Mental Health (1): Rachel Temple

Rachel Temple

This post is first in a series of posts on a project on agency and youth mental health funded by a MRC/AHRC/ESRC Adolescence, Mental Health and the Developing Mind: Engagement Award and led by Rose McCabe at City University. The research team members were asked the same four questions and today it is Rachel Temple's turn to answer.

Rachel is a Public Involvement & Research Manager at the mental health research charity, The McPin Foundation. At The McPin Foundation, she leads the McPin’s Young People Advisory Group and the wider young people’s network. She is passionate about ensuring meaningful involvement of young people in mental health research in ways that are comfortable, accessible, and engaging; regularly drawing from her social anxiety experiences when facilitating. 

Rachel is responsible for ensuring that no key decisions are made without consulting with the young people on this project; seeking their input on things such as project aims, design, results and presentation of findings. Rachel also identifies as a young person with lived experience of accessing mental health services, as well as a former support worker for young people’s inpatient services. To learn more about Rachel's work, follow the Young People's Network at the McPin Foundation on Twitter or Instagram.

What interests you about clinical encounters with young people in the mental health context?

My interest in this area comes from a lived experience perspective. As a young person with mental health issues myself, I have seen first-hand how instrumental those initial conversations are in installing trust. Feeling validated and like you have been listened to are some of the major things which help to establish that trust. 

Effective communication means absolutely everything in these encounters. For some, they really are ‘make or break’: if handled poorly, they can completely discourage a young person from ever seeking support again. This can cause a young person’s mental health to deteriorate further. As a former support worker for young people with mental health issues, I have seen this happen. I am deeply interested in what we can do to stop this from happening. Ultimately, I am interested in what we can learn about agency to improve these interactions and in turn, ensure that young people with mental health problems feel better supported.

Why is the focus on agency important in this context?

From what we have witnessed, the concept of agency - and the professional’s perception of the young person’s agency - can steer these interactions into a particular direction. We have seen examples whereby a young person is considered to have so much agency that their plea for support is dismissed. 

In some cases, they have even been held responsible for the difficulties that they are experiencing. Or basically just told that they should go ahead and do the things that the professional advises – like take their medication properly. It is important for us to understand why and how these judgments are formed about agency, how they impact mental health interactions - and what we can do about it.

What do your experience and disciplinary background bring to the project?


I wear multiple hats on this project: my lived experience expertise, my prior experience as a mental health support worker, and my current role as Young People’s Involvement lead at The McPin Foundation. I do my best to draw from all three where applicable. Above all, my role is to ensure that we are involving young people every step of the way and within every decision we make about the project.

What do you hope to see as an outcome of this project?

Personally, I have learned so much from this project, merely by listening to what other people on the team have to say. I hope for us to share learning with those who will benefit from it the most: mental health professionals and young people. 

If we can hammer home the importance of agency in establishing effective relationships between these groups, I think we could see a real positive shift in these interactions. To do this, I hope we can identify some of the major ingredients for a successful mental health interaction, and then share that knowledge in a meaningful, accessible and engaging way.

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