Loughborough Academics join forces with Aardman to tackle Mental Health Crisis

Leicestershire, UK - Young people struggling with mental health issues arising from challenges such as loneliness, perfectionism and competitiveness, will be supported by a series of new animated films and companion website.

Aardman, the award-winning independent studio, has joined forces with a team of leading researchers - which includes academics from Loughborough University’s Storytelling Academy - and mental health charities on a campaign developed to encourage young people to become more aware of the factors that may be having a negative impact on their mental wellbeing.

Called ‘What’s Up With Everyone?’ and aimed at young people aged 17-24, the campaign sees the launch of a series of short films and has been uniquely co-created with the young audience it sets out to support, ensuring it has an authentic voice and is genuinely representative of the challenges to mental wellbeing faced by the demographic.

The films, which launch across social media this week alongside a supporting website, introduce five characters, each of whom is contending with an issue related to loneliness, perfectionism, competitiveness, independence, and social media - five of the most common issues negatively impacting young people, according to the campaign’s research.

The collaborative project, led by Professor Paul Crawford of the University of Nottingham, is informed by research commissioned and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Loughborough’s Storytelling Academy led on the practice-based research, which involved devising, running, and evaluating digital storytelling workshops that creatively explored young people's perceptions and experiences of mental health.

The team – which includes campaign co-investigator and Director of Loughborough University’s Storytelling Academy, Professor Michael Wilson, plus Dr Melaneia Warwick, and Dr Antonia Liguori – remotely delivered workshops over two-to-three days and asked groups of young people to create personal, multi-modal stories that spoke to the workshop theme.

The workshops included exciting group participation approaches that enabled young people to feel involved despite the physical distance due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The Loughborough researchers are also to host another series of workshops at a later date to evaluate the impact of the campaign films on young people’s mental health literacy.

Professor Wilson commented: “The Storytelling Academy at Loughborough has a longstanding interest in how storytelling can be applied to the field of health and well-being to contribute to better outcomes.

“This unique collaboration between ourselves and experts in mental health and animation allows us to develop our work in exciting new ways around creating agency for individuals through using storytelling to improve mental health literacy.”

The partnership – which also involves the London School of Economics and Politics; the Mental Health Foundation and mental wellbeing charity, Happy Space; and young people's mental health expert, Dr Dominique Thompson - comes at a time when the pandemic has increased the focus on youth mental wellbeing, with reports that two-thirds of young people have experienced worse mental health during the period of lockdown restrictions.

A recent NHS survey also showed that one in six children and young people had a probable mental health disorder in July 2020, compared to one in nine in 2017, whilst the Office for National Statistics (ONS) discovered that more than half of all students at University (57%) reported a worsening in their mental health and well-being since the beginning of the autumn term in September 2020.

Speaking on the launch of the campaign, Daniel Binns, Animation Director at Aardman Animations, said: “We wanted to create content that could come up on someone’s social media and elicit the response 'I know that feeling'. We want people watching them to see a little of themselves in the characters and their stories and that be the start of thinking about how they feel, or cope and how it could be better.

“What really sets this project apart is that it's been co-created with young people at every step. Their input alongside those of our experts, has been invaluable and enlightening, enabling us to craft authentic and effective resources that can make a genuinely positive impact.”