Listening to and Learning from Young People - Batyr

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Listening to and Learning from Young People

January 12, 2022

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According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 25% of 14 – 24 year-olds live with a diagnosed mental illness (ABS, 2018) and young Aussies have been further affected by the social, economic and health impacts of COVID-19. This has resulted in a significant increase in reported psychological distress (AIHW, 2021). 

We’re living in a time where young people are disproportionately struggling with their mental health and there’s an urgent need to provide accessible, engaging, evidence-based initiatives that are youth-led and contribute to better decision-making and support.

With funding from the Australian Department of Health, batyr have built OurHerd, a digital storytelling intervention to support young people going through tough times.

Introducing OurHerd

OurHerd is a mental health storytelling app that empowers young people to use their collective voices to create actionable change. The platform provides a safe and supportive space to share stories about tough times, resilience and hope.

OurHerd is uniquely positioned to give young people the opportunity for their voices to be heard, and to inform the decisions that affect them. The app combines lived experience storytelling with sentiment analysis, AI and machine learning to collect data and insights to bridge the gap between decision makers and young people, driving systemic change that’s led by the youth voice.

Partnership with Western Sydney University

In March 2021, we launched a research partnership with the Young and Resilient Research Centre at Western Sydney University, with The Honourable David Coleman (Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention). 

The purpose of this study was to understand how young people are using OurHerd to navigate their way through tough times and to use these insights to inform future developments of the app.

What did we hear?

Nothing I’ve ever used is specifically to share mental health stories, which is why I really like it, I mean people share mental health stories on all different social media platforms, you can see it on other platforms like TikTok that sometimes delve into the world of mental health, and other apps.

But I think OurHerd is the first like safe space purely dedicated to speaking about mental health… It’s just a really positive platform that focuses more on strength and resilience in mental health, rather than on the negatives associated with it.

– Story Creator, 21

What did we find out?

1. OurHerd is a one-of-a-kind safe digital space where young people don’t feel alone 

The research highlighted that OurHerd gave young people a sense of connectedness and made them feel like they were not alone. The app is perceived as a safe and trusted space for sharing stories of navigating mental health, and fosters diversity and inclusion. The story moderation on OurHerd was highlighted as an important and distinct feature.

Whilst mental health stories might be found on other social media platforms, OurHerd’s unique focus on ‘strength and resilience’ enables people to safely share stories with others who can relate.

2. Young people want to take control of their own mental health by seeking information and supporting others

One of the most important and motivating aspects of the app is the potential for young people’s stories to have a positive impact on others. The community views OurHerd as a space to contribute to broader advocacy for mental health; to share, be heard, support their peers and help reduce mental health stigma.

For some, the uniquely youth-focused audience of OurHerd, removed from other social spaces involving family and friends, was also important: I don’t think I have any of my kind of, say, close friends or family on [OurHerd] which might have been why I was more willing to post my story… if my friends and family were on there [OurHerd], maybe I’d be less willing to share some of the parts of my story that they might not know about. – Lara, Story Creator, 21

The majority of users considered themselves to be mental health advocates and OurHerd has helped them to speak up in other settings, including on traditional social media platforms. The app adds another avenue for young people to activate and advocate for mental health, particularly as it impacts on women, CALD community, LGBT+ people, and rural young people.

3. OurHerd is expected to be beneficial for mental health literacy, help-seeking, and internalised stigma

One user described how OurHerd helped to educate them on mental ill-health: Other people’s stories have also helped me understand more about different mental illnesses that I haven’t experienced before, which is really helpful for my awareness and also for the “taboo” that I might be carrying simply due to the fact that I don’t know enough about them.

For all users on the platform, we saw that as mental health literacy scores increased (i.e. young people had the knowledge, understanding and skills needed to promote mental health), there were less barriers for them in seeking help when needed, and vice versa.

Theses correlations give us a positive sign that a space like OurHerd – where mental health is normalised amongst a group of peers – is more likely to have a positive effect on young people’s mental wellbeing and lower internalised stigma.

4. The informal learning that comes from viewing stories is a critical offering of OurHerd

The diversity of experiences, actions and learnings shared by peers on OurHerd give young people knowledge that can be incorporated into their own lives.

Story Creators share their own self-care strategies that can benefit others, whilst applying story tags that can help others find relatable experiences and filter out any stories which may be triggering. Users also pointed out the benefit of the positive endings in OurHerd’s stories, which kept them engaged with self-care and ways of support.

5. The OurHerd community feels self-empowered and empowered to help others

All users seemed to encounter a significant change through using the app; feeling more empowered and validated in their mental health journeys.

Story Creators said that the sense of empowerment that came from having a safe outlet to share with peers, being able to positively impact others and importantly, feeling heard. In fact, one user shared that although it wasn’t always easy or convenient to share their story (due to lack of confidence and time), even starting the process on OurHerd was empowering.

Young people on OurHerd believed that listening to other people’s stories was empowering; Story Consumers were inspired by how people like them overcame a challenging situation, and felt less alone in their own experience.

Where to from here?

We’re excited to see these early findings and to be able to amplify the voices of young people who’ve shared stories and listened to each other on OurHerd. This study reveals the powerful insights of a small group of users who’ve been amongst the first to join the platform. We look forward to continuing to build our findings to ensure OurHerd continues to have an enduring impact as we reach more and more young people.

This research project was commissioned by batyr and independently conducted by Western Sydney University’s Young & Resilient Research Centre team: Dr Benjamin Hanckel, Senior Research Fellow, Associate Professor Philippa Collin, Co-Director and Sarjana Ahmed, Research Assistant. We acknowledge the support and funding from the Australian Government Department of Health.

A special thanks to the young people using OurHerd for participating in our study and for sharing their experiences with us.

Read the full report summary here