The My World Survey: From Ethics to Launch
The My World Survey is the first national database in Ireland that profiles the mental health of young people. The MWS allows us to do much more than simply put statistics on the number of young people who are experiencing distress and to what degree. It also allows us to see how different experiences in the life of a young person, from age 12 right up to 25, are related to their mental health.
To date, we have had limited information on the experiences of young people and their mental health in Ireland. Past studies carried out have provided data up to age 18 years only, and have often been confined to specific counties. The primary focus of most studies to date has been on the negative (risk) factors associated with mental health. The MWS has broadened the scope of our understanding of the lives and mental health of young people hugely. It considers critical protective factors that enable a young person to resolve the challenges they face- like the presence of one good adult- as well as the risk factors that compound their distress- like alcohol or substance use.
In December 2011, ethical approval to conduct the My World Survey national study was received from University College Dublin Research Ethics Committee. The MWS includes measures that are internationally respected worldwide and used extensively with young people in other countries, therefore, our results can be compared to international findings. The MWS tool is balanced for both positive and negative factors of mental health, taking a more positive approach to youth mental health.
The MWS national study involved 14,306 young people stretching from age 12 up to 25 years from a variety of backgrounds including 72 second-level schools, 12 third-level institutions, and several training centres, unemployed organizations and work locations right across the country. This makes it the largest, most comprehensive study of youth mental health ever conducted in Ireland. Data collection involved the commitment of seven researchers, while data entry and processing of surveys involved the assistance of 28 volunteer researchers.
Many weeks were spent carrying out statistical analyses on the MWS data and many more were spent writing the national report. A team of talented graphic designers worked on the design of the report to ensure it was visually appealing, clear, and easy to read. The Communications Department in Headstrong- Micheline, Orlaith and Orla- spent many weeks organizing the MWS launch and ensuring that it was an immense success.
The launch of the MWS took place on a beautiful sunny morning on the 16th of May in City Hall, Dublin. The City Hall is a Georgian architecture for which Dublin is world-renowned and provided an ideal setting for the monumental event.
Some of the key findings in the report include the important role of ‘one good adult’ to the mental wellbeing of young people, the links between harmful alcohol use and mental distress, and those who do not talk about their problems are at increased risk for distress. It is heartening that the MWS also found that the majority of young people are functioning well across a variety of mental health indicators.
From ethics to launch, I have found it most rewarding overseeing the My World Survey national study through to completion with Dr. Barbara Dooley. The launch of the MWS report has instigated much debate on youth mental health issues in the Government including the ban of alcohol sponsorship of sports advertising, proposing a bill on minimum pricing on alcohol, and ensuring youth mental health is a priority for our Government.
The My World study has received a huge amount of media coverage and it was refreshing to hear Breda O Brien refer to the My World Survey report as ‘fascinating’ and ‘worth a read’ in her Opinion Piece in the Irish Times (May 19th, 2012).
To conclude, the My World survey sheds light on the risk and protective factors that are faced by young people every day in Ireland. These findings will be of keen interest to policy makers, youth workers, counselors, and especially parents and young people themselves.
As Dr. Muiris Houston reported in an article in the Irish Medical Times:
“The data from MWS offers us, for the first time, an understanding of where young people are ‘at’ psychologically. We now have an evidence base to plan for the nation’s future mental health needs.
Let’s go and do it.” (May 16th, 2012).
Dr. Amanda Fitzgerald is a Research Fellow on the My World Survey.