Academics join forces with Aardman to tackle mental health crisis

Leading academics have partnered with Aardman to launch new mental health campaign What’s Up With Everyone? funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

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 a companion website.

What’s Up With Everyone? is led by Professor of Health Humanities Paul Crawford at the Institute of Mental Health, the University of Nottingham, and supported by the AHRC. This exciting project translates research into accessible content created by the multi-award-winning studio Aardman and will analyse the films’ impact.

Although around half of all lifetime mental health problems start by the mid-teens, intervention typically starts much later. Issues include rising suicide rates among young people and unprecedented challenges for young people at school, university, college or the workplace. This points to an urgent need to rethink mental health education to reach and engage young people.

What’s Up With Everyone? is a series of five new animated films created with and for young people about dealing with life’s challenges before they impact mental health.

Collaboration between the creative and academic sectors

What’s Up With Everyone? is a prime example of what can be achieved when the creative and academic sectors come together to maximise the impact of public health research. Each film draws on evidence-based mental health research funded by the AHRC. Collaborating institutions and formal partners include:

  • University of Nottingham
  • Loughborough University
  • London School of Economics and Politics
  • Mental Health Foundation
  • Happy Space.

In addition, the films link to vital information and signposting for how young people can help themselves or seek help for the issues raised through the project’s website.

Positive impacts on public health

As well as communicating mental health research to a wide audience, What’s Up With Everyone? will help further our understanding of mental health through an evaluative study of audience responses.

This will investigate the impact of the films on young people and determine their perceptions and trust in the information in the films and its companion platform. The findings from this study will be synthesised in a digital showcase hosted with the Mental Health Foundation.

In recent years, research has fundamentally changed our understanding of mental health. By working in partnership with one of the UK’s world-beating arts and entertainment industries, the project team has advanced the potential to engage mass audiences with compelling stories that change the way young people consider how to respond to life’s challenges. This collaboration is set to deliver a tangible and positive impact on public health.

To find out more about the campaign, please visit the campaign’s website and accounts on Facebook,  Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok.

Articulating complex challenges

Paul Meller, Associate Director of Programmes, Arts and Humanities Research Council said:

In a year that has seen huge disruption to young people across the UK, understanding and responding to mental health challenges has never been more important.

To truly enhance mental health literacy for the next generation, we must think creatively about how to reach young people and articulate the complex challenges they face.

This novel collaboration between researchers and the creative sector perfectly exemplifies how we can do this, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council is proud to support this pioneering approach to creative public health.

Professor of Health Humanities Paul Crawford, Principal Investigator and Director of the Centre for Social Futures at the Institute of Mental Health, University of Nottingham, said:

The research behind, within and about this project was fundamental to the successful creation of these new films and the website to support the mental health of young people.

With COVID-19 there will be no red carpet but there is a deep pride that all those involved in this project have been part of a bit of magic amidst the difficult times we are all facing.

Anyone who has worked with Aardman or seen their work will know that their reach to the audience is profound, so the potential impact trajectory for the project is jaw-dropping.

Neil Pymer, Creative Director at Aardman, said:

Mental wellbeing amongst young people is vital, especially in these challenging times. The films we’ve created aim to help identify early behaviours that might act as a catalyst to deeper issues and ways young people can self-help or look for further support if they need it.

What really sets this project apart is that it’s been co-created with young people at every step; their input has been invaluable in crafting a unique, genuine voice.

We’re delighted to be working with some incredible charities and organisations to bring this campaign to life.  We hope it can make a difference.

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