When “Business as Usual” Doesn’t Work for Young Adults: What Is a Service Provider or Researcher to Do?

February 09, 2019

Kathryn Sabella and Amanda Costa, Transitions to Adulthood Center for Research, University of Massachusetts Medical School

When it comes to engaging young adults with lived experience in services, we’ve all heard the same old, frustrated message from young adult researchers, providers and allies: young adults just don’t want to engage in mental health services, young adult’s no-show for appointments all the time, young adults don’t want to participate in research. Is there some truth to these statements? Perhaps. But we also know some other truths:

  • When mental health services are culturally appealing and developmentally appropriate, young adults DO engage, and their outcomes improve!
  • When service providers provide a safe, non-judgmental space for young people to share their story, a trustful and helpful relationship can develop.
  • When young adults feel that a service provider is meeting their needs, they WILL keep coming back.
  • Young adults like to participate in research and tell their stories to someone who wants to listen (bonus points if they can get interviewed by a peer or participate from the comfort of their own home).

How can all of these contradicting truths co-exist? We believe that the last few truths exist only when service providers and researchers are willing to think outside of the box, push boundaries of traditional the service systems, and go a little (or maybe a lot) out of their comfort zone. And the key to these changes lies in the innovations that can come only when service providers and researchers’ partner with young adults with lived experience to co-develop new strategies and initiatives in both practice and research. Such changes may feel impossible, and a little uncomfortable, but organizations all over the United States have started cultural shifts in research and practice, often with young adults leading the way.

And guess what? It’s working.

Still don’t believe me? Give us the opportunity to convince you by joining us at the Tuesday afternoon plenary Business as Usual” Is Not Enough: Engaging and Innovating with Young Adults in Research and Practice on Tuesday, March 5th at the 32nd Annual Research and Policy Conference on Child, Adolescent and Young Adult Behavioral Health in sunny Tampa! We, along with some stellar co-presenters, will share with you real-life examples of how innovations, when co-led by young adults, can lead to better engagement in services and research and better outcomes for the young adults they serve. We’ll provide examples from organizations across the US who are using creative ways to recruit and engage young adults in research (hint: texting is the new phone call) and the instant credibility (and trust) that is cultivated when another young adult is collecting research data.

Our fantastic colleagues from Kentucky TAYLRD (Transition Age Youth Launching Realized Dreams), Stephanie Sikes-Jones and Tyler Clark, will share their on-the-ground experiences developing, designing, and delivering services in drop-in centers in Kentucky for young adults. These young adults not only struggle with mental health but also with getting their basic needs met like having a place to do laundry or locating safe and reliable housing. They will also share examples of implementing peer support and recovery services that meet young adults where they’re at. These services go against the grain by focusing on catering to the multiple needs of a young adult, not just their mental health needs.

Because here’s another truth: if you establish trust, meet young adults where they are at, and help them with the areas they identify as important, young adults will eventually come around to getting their mental health needs met.

These innovations all share one major theme: they were the result of innovating and collaborating with young adults themselves from start to finish. Get young adults on board to help design or deliver services, or design and conduct research, and you will quickly see just what they can bring to the table.

Join us in Tampa and hear from researchers, providers, and young adults with lived experience about the power and purpose of developing engaging and innovative services. See what it takes to make the change and embrace the belief that “Business as usual” will no longer cut it.

Learn more about the “Tampa Conference” and join us!

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