Young people from across Scotland have worked with Public Health Scotland (PHS) to co-produce a programme to improve mental wellbeing in Scotland. The project marks the start of a longer-term commitment to ensure public health work relating to young people is developed and delivered in partnership. Emily Breedon, Co-design officer at Young Scot, shares more about the collaborative which she experience.

For many young people, issues surrounding mental health is one of the many pressures they have to navigate, and it is often felt that there is a lack of support from schools and other decision makers. The PHS Young People’s Panel was established as a first step to tackle this issue.

In September 2021, Young Scot recruited 23 young people, aged between 14 and 17, to participate in the panel. Young people shared their key motivations for applying, including, their own experiences of mental health, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the experience being valuable for their development.

Because I have seen the effect of the pandemic on friends and family, and it has made me much more aware of mental health issues and how young people can be affected. I want to support those facing issues and be part of a positive change.

(Participant, 16, Edinburgh)

The young people were taken through Young Scot’s co-design process over the next few months. Young Scot's volunteering and system-changer service #YSHive (external website) was used to design a process to build their knowledge and understanding of PHS and the PHS mental health strategy, before developing creative recommendations. The Young People then used these to challenge decision-makers and hold them accountable to their continued engagement with young people.

YSHive banner describing the steps of: Explore, Create, Disrupt and Act

The group’s work kicked off in the Explore stage, where they explored PHS's mental health indicators research, prioritising key areas and identifying gaps. By November, the young people moved onto the Create phase, developing ideas and recommendations for PHS’s proposed mental health strategic framework. The next stage was Disrupt, where the young people reflected on their experience of the panel, to inform how PHS can continue to engage meaningfully with young people in the future. Finally, for the last stage of the project  -Act - the panel came together to adapt these reflections into recommendations and to prepare to present them back to both the PHS Senior Leadership Team (SLT) and the PHS Board.

The young people established nine recommendations that were split into two sections:

How PHS can engage with young people in topic areas and strategy or decision making

  1. Have frequent and more regular sessions with young people over a longer and more sustained duration.
  2. Consult a wider range of young people, especially regarding age group.
  3. Set research tasks in-between sessions.
  4. Present information in an accessible & youth-friendly way.
  5. Establish school partnerships to reach out to more young people.

How PHS can continue to engage with young people as an organisation

  1. Involve young people at senior levels of decision making, such as pitching ideas and recommendations to the Board/SLT.
  2. Involve young people in co-designing PHS’s social media and online content.
  3. Involve young people in more school-specific topics, especially relationships with peers.
  4. Engage with young people in other topic areas: COVID-19 impact, relationship with the internet, fake news, eating disorders, stress.

The young people were thanked by both audiences for their clarity, significant contribution, and for their confidence in bringing constructive challenge to the work. There was a real appetite from PHS to build on this approach and to work in this more collaborative way, to help achieve greater impact on key public health issues. It was a great way for the project to end as it gave the young people involved the platform to have discussions with decision makers at PHS and challenge them to put their recommendations into action. Discussions are now taking place to build on our momentum and find new areas to work together.

I just want to say a huge thank you for everything you have done, creating a space where we feel comfortable and passionate to discuss these serious topics. I would definitely recommend other young people to take part in this amazing experience.

(Member of the Public Health Scotland Young People’s Panel)

Claire Sweeney, Director of Place and Wellbeing at Public Health Scotland, added:

Many thanks to our friends at Young Scot. The energy, drive and commitment to change is palpable and has made us think quite differently about what mental wellbeing means to young people in 2022. The Young People’s Panel has already improved Public Health Scotland’s work and I look forward to our continued collaboration.

Read the full Public Health Scotland Young People’s Panel report (external website)

Last updated: 06 October 2022