The majority of mental health difficulties emerge before the age of 25 and this is also a time when young peoples’ sense of agency and social identity is developing.
From our consultations with young people, we are aware how disenfranchised they can feel when healthcare interactions within supports and services seem to speak a different language that does not involve them, address their needs, respect their agency and treat them fairly. Not being involved and treated as an active agent impacts negatively on young peoples’ wider sense of agency and identity, which in turn effects their relationships, school and transition to employment during this critical developmental phase.
It is therefore crucial to study how young people feel helped or harmed by mental healthcare social interactions, and what consequences this has on their wider sense of agency and social identity. This requires a greater understanding both of helpful interactions to improve outcomes for young people and also of harmful interactions in order to avoid harm and mitigate risk. Ultimately, we are interested in how it is that young people come to feel enabled to be active agents in their care and identify solutions they feel will help rather than harm them.
The project has three main objectives. Firstly, we will establish a new collaboration involving young people, their families, clinicians and academics across philosophy, ethics, psychology and neuroscience to investigate agency, identity and justice in youth mental health. Secondly, we will advance an innovative new research direction that makes use of an empirical analysis of the philosophical concepts of agency and justice in healthcare encounters, as well as of a conversation analysis combined with novel interview methods. Finally, we will develop a new study idea to investigate the effect on the developing brain of high and low agency in social interaction.