Online museum project aims to help young people improve mental health

Oxford University’s Origin project will have about 1,500 people aged 16 to 24 taking part.
Oxford University’s Origin project will have about 1,500 people aged 16 to 24 taking part.

An online art and culture museum is being designed by young people as part of a trial to improve mental health.

About 1,500 young people aged 16 to 24 are taking part in Oxford University’s Origin (Optimising cultural expeRIences for mental health in underrepresented younG people onlINe) project.

Those taking part include people from LGBT+ backgrounds, autistic individuals, those from ethnic minorities, people from deprived areas of the UK and those on NHS waiting lists for mental health support.

The online arts and culture intervention is aimed at reducing anxiety and depression, the researchers said.

Professor Kam Bhui, from Oxford University and co-lead of the programme, said: “There is enormous potential for creative and digital methods to authentically capture young people’s experiences and co-design interventions to prevent poor mental health.

“There is a massive treatment gap which we hope to fill.

“Origin complements other pioneering programmes in the Department of Psychiatry on creative arts as empowering intervention for young people.”

Dr Rebecca Syed Sheriff, an NHS consultant psychiatrist and senior clinical researcher at Oxford University, who is also leading the programme, said: “Most mental health problems start before 25 yet young people are the least likely to receive mental health care, with some groups such as ethnic minorities even less likely.

“Much of the support currently offered by health services, such as medication and talking therapies, are inaccessible and unacceptable to many of the young people who need it most.

“Online support can be more accessible and this exciting project gives us the chance to work with diverse young people on their own terms to co-design an intervention that young people are engaged by and believe in.

“This programme could have significant implications for how arts and culture are used to improve the mental health of young people in the future in a way that is engaging and accessible across diverse groups.”

Helen Adams, from Oxford University’s Gardens, Libraries and Museums, which is partnering on the project, said: “Museums strive to create safe and inclusive spaces both in person and online, but know they are not always seen as accessible or relevant by many young people.

“We are really excited to be part of this project to challenge our ways of working, and to find out more about the ways in which arts and culture can help enrich and improve the mental health and wellbeing of young people, potentially encouraging lifelong engagement.”

The £2.61 million research project is being hosted by Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust and funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR).