Animation studio Aardman – makers of Wallace & Gromit and Shaun the Sheep – has joined forces with leading researchers 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?’, the campaign sees the launch of a series of short films aimed at young people aged 17-24, 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 campaign was led by Professor of Health Humanities Paul Crawford at the University of Nottingham, with research teams at The University of Nottingham, Loughborough University, the London School of Economics and Political Science; the Mental Health Foundation and mental wellbeing charity, Happy Space; and with young people’s mental health expert, Dr Dominique Thompson.
The partnership 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.
The collaborative project – informed by research commissioned and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) that involved Loughborough University’s Storytelling Academy – will develop and evaluate the impact of a series of animated stories aiming to increase young people’s mental health literacy. Speaking on the launch of the campaign, Daniel Binns, Animation Director at Aardman, said: “We set out to produce short films which young people could relate to, something that felt genuine and honest. 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.”
Professor of Health Humanities, Paul Crawford, Principal Investigator of this collaborative research project, said: “These wonderful short animated stories should help all our young people to think about and explore solutions to the kind of mental health challenges that come with difficult life transitions such as heading off to university or college or starting in training or employment. The films and supporting online resources will be very welcome at this time, with all the disruption and anxieties in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.’
“As well as providing a much needed mental health resource, this campaign forms part of a wider research project that will also evaluate how effective these creative platforms are as a way of reaching the young people who need it, and ensuring help and guidance is easily accessible.’
“I have dedicated a lot of my life to working with young people and understanding their mental wellness in particular, which is why I’m delighted to be working closely with Aardman on this unique campaign,” commented Dr Dominique Thompson, Clinical Advisor for the project. “Through creating another avenue to help support the next generation of society, we hope that this campaign will really encourage young people to think about the world they live in and reflect on how they respond to it, so that they stay happy and healthy.”
“It has never been more important to encourage people to understand what they can do to support their own and each other’s mental health,” say Dr David Crepaz-Keay, Head of Applied Learning at the Mental Health Foundation. “These resources will enable students to be at the heart of conversations about mental health and how we protect and improve it for generations to come.”
Aardman director Dan Binns dives into the creative process behind What’s Up With Everyone?