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Interactions between youth and mental health professionals: The Youth Aware of Mental health (YAM) program experience.


ABSTRACT: Youth stand at the core of much mental health promotion, yet little is written about their experiences of such efforts. We aimed to take this on by interviewing youth after they participated in Youth Aware of Mental Health (YAM), a universal mental health promotion program. YAM has a non-anticipatory methodology that provides youth with a safe space for reflection, role-play, and discussion. Addressing everyday mental health, YAM invites the experiences and issues relevant to the youth present to influence the program in a slightly different direction every time. The YAM instructor guides the participants but does not present the youth with given formulas on how to solve their problems. Like any mental health promotion, YAM appeals to some more than others in its intended audience and individuals engage with the program in many different ways. We set out to learn more about these experiences.Thirty-two semi-structured interviews were conducted with 15-17 year olds in Estonia, Italy, Romania and Spain. In these interviews, the researchers made an effort to discuss mental health in terms relevant to youth. Still, wide-ranging levels of motivation, ease with engaging in dialogue with mental health professionals, and comfort with the format and content of YAM were detected. The youth were clustered in five different groups relating to their positioning vis-à-vis the researcher during the interview. The following evocative labels were used: "interested", "foot in the door", "respect for authority", "careful", and "not my topic". Corresponding labels were devised for their YAM experience: "engaged", "initially hesitant", "cautious", "eager to please", or "disengaged". We also observed that the researchers brought their own expectations and employed a variety of approaches that led to anticipating answers, stating the obvious, or getting along better with some of the youth. These modes of interaction were categorized under: "favoritism", "familiarity", "frustration", "out of sync", and "insecurity". Similar power dynamics likely transpire in other encounters between youth and researchers, including interventions such as YAM.As mental health professionals, we need to be aware of the professional habits and biases that sometimes obstruct us in understanding the experiences of youth. By initiating dialogue and listening closely to youth we can find a way to those experiences. Qualitative research can help bring the underlying interplay between mental health professionals and youth to the surface while also orienting the conversation towards topics that matter to youth. Some youth are more interested or feel more at ease in speaking openly with mental health professionals, while others find such exchanges less appealing or almost intolerable. Future mental health promotion initiatives would benefit from involving youth in the design of interventions to create an inclusive atmosphere and engage with topics that appeal to youth with diverse experiences of mental health.

PROVIDER: S-EPMC5805239 | BioStudies |

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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