Topics: Culture + Society
We all know that it is best to support young people who are struggling with life’s challenges upstream, and not wait until they need clinical interventions. I have been leading a new multi-media campaign to do just this. In partnership with the iconic animations company Aardman (makers of classics such as Wallace & Gromit, Shaun the Sheep, and Chicken Run), and teaming up with young people, our UK-based clinical and research project family has launched What’s Up With Everyone?
The What’s Up With Everyone? mental health campaign is a series of animated shorts and companion platform. Not only are these animations available on Aardman Animation’s YouTube Channel along with other digital platforms where young people interact (Instagram, TikTok), but I am delighted that the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds will be promoting them, as well, in recognition of the many unique challenges young people face that can negatively impact their mental and emotional well-being.
Many young people have been struggling during the pandemic, not least during the lockdowns, with all the disruption to their social lives, so these resources created with and for young people about dealing with life’s challenges before they lead to more serious mental health problems are timely. Instead of adopting an adult perspective on life’s challenges for young people, we asked young people what was troubling them. They identified five key areas:
Importantly, we wanted to allow the authentic voices of our young people to take centre stage. So, their voices, rather than those of actors, are behind the brilliant characters co-designed by Aardman Director, Dan Binns: Merve, Alex, Charlie Ashley, and Tai.
What’s Up With Everyone is a fabulous example of what can be achieved when the creative industry joins with young people, academics and clinicians to offer new popular and easily accessible supports. The films draw on both experience and evidence about what concerns young people and adds to their vulnerability. The films will be of particular interest to young people at high school preparing for college, university or the workplace, but also appeal strongly to those in junior high, beginning to explore how to develop mentally healthy approaches to life.
The campaign, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, brought together Aardman with key collaborating institutions of University of Nottingham, Loughborough University, London School of Economics and Politics, supported by its formal partner, Mental Health Foundation, Happy Space and clinical advisers. In addition, the films link to key information and signposting for how young people can help themselves or seek help for the issues raised. (For those in the United States, the Clay Center’s Where To Turn page includes resources for seeking help.)
As well as communicating mental health research to a wide audience, What’s Up With Everyone will help further our understanding of mental health through an evaluative study of audience responses. This will investigate the impact of the films on young people and determine how they view and trust the information in the films and companion platform. We will also be investigating the role and impact of storytelling as a core feature of animations and conveying the emotional needs of young people. The findings from this study will be synthesised in a digital showcase hosted with the Mental Health Foundation.
Our preliminary findings in phase 1 of the research study within the overall campaign showed improved knowledge and attitudes to mental health among young people from watching the short films, and increased their willingness to seek help as well as confidence to help others. We will be publishing the findings from this and other research phases in peer-reviewed journals throughout 2021.
In recent years, research has fundamentally changed our understanding of mental health. By working in partnership with a world-beating arts and entertainment company, the project team has advanced the potential to engage mass audiences with compelling stories that change the way young people consider how to respond to life’s challenges. This collaboration is set to deliver a tangible and positive impact on public health.
To find out more about the What’s Up With Everyone campaign, please visit:
The author, as Project Lead and Principal Investigator for the campaign, wishes to acknowledge funding from the Arts and Humanities research Council for the campaign and project What’s Up With Everyone? (Grant number AH/T003804/1).