TALK of mental health is everywhere. From Royals to rappers, politicians to paediatric specialists; everyone has an opinion.

With fantastic initiatives like Time To Talk Day and World Mental Health Day, awareness is being raised and stigma is being battled.

And with good cause, too. Did you know that more than one in 10 children and young people have a mental health problem?

That means in an average class of 30, three of those children may be experiencing disorders like anxiety or depression.

But where are the voices of those children and young people in the services that support them?

We’re often dazzled by the expertise of experts, citing robust research and evidence bases, in guiding the way our services our designed.

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Those opinions are vital and ensure that we’re drawing upon the best possible tools and knowledge we have at our disposal. However, what we so often neglect to do is ask the people who will use those services ‘how do you feel about that?’.

The Discovery College approach is one that has been created to fundamentally change the way that child and adolescent mental health support is created and delivered, and it’s one that I can’t help but feel genuinely excited and hopeful about.

At its most basic level, it recognises that the children themselves, their families, and the professionals working directly with them are absolutely the experts in their own circumstance.

Young people are involved in creating courses, designing the spaces they meet in, and establishing how they want to be supported.

Adults with their own lived experience team up with relevant professionals to write courses about topics such as managing depression or creating a wellbeing toolbox, so that learning is both evidence-based and authentic.

Everything is focused on learning together about mental health, and seeing the value in the personal experience you have.

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However, any work we do at the Oxfordshire Discovery College will be so much more impactful if we’re not doing it in isolation.

The sector is really starting to wake up to the idea of ‘co-production’; beginning to see the value of involving people in service creation and delivery, and grappling with the complex issue of ‘precisely how do we involve people?’.

But we need to get there faster. Mental health services, in Oxfordshire and across the country, are stretched and often under resourced.

With reduced stigma and increased prevalence, services are simply being inundated with people. Between 2011 and 2017, referrals to Oxfordshire CAMHS for 15-19 year olds increased by 80 per cent.

The funding environment for both health and charitable organisations is tough, and we’re being asked to do much, much more with less.

This means it has become absolutely vital that the services that do exist are making sure that they are the right service for the people they serve.

The best way to do this is to ask.

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We at the Oxfordshire Discovery College, along with numerous partners and counterparts in the county, are flying the flag for co-production.

Not just ‘consulting patients’ or holding focus groups but meaningful, embedded, long-term, strategic involvement.

Not only does it make our work better and the children and young people we support feel heard, it’s also the only rational way to combat the challenges we’re facing as a sector.

We don’t give young people a voice; they already have one. What we help them to do is use it to incredibly powerful effect.

Oxfordshire Discovery College proudly sits within local mental health and complex needs charity Elmore Community Services.

Since 1989 Elmore has been working with vulnerable people experiencing several overlapping challenges at the same time, including mental ill health, homelessness, rough sleeping, slavery, abuse, exploitation, and alcohol and drug addictions.

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Last year Elmore supported a total of 385 clients. At the cutting edge of Elmore’s work is our NHS-funded mental health and complex needs team.

Elmore spot the gaps in existing services and innovate services to ensure that no-one is forced to fall through the cracks in service provision, and Oxfordshire Discovery College fits squarely in that model.

If you’d like to learn more about the work we do, or would like support with embedding co-production in your organisation, please check our website or contact us directly.