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Oxford online museum project aims to improve mental health

Oxford researchers are leading a project to create an ‘online museum’ in collaboration with young people to improve their mental health. The research project involves underrepresented young people aged 16-24 in co-designing an online arts and culture musuem aimed at reducing anxiety and depression.

The project ORGIN (Optimising cultural expeRIences for mental health in underrepresented younG people onliNe) will run from 2023-2028 and has received £2.61 million in funding from the National Institute for Health and Care Research.

Dr Rebecca Syed Sheriff, an NHS consultant psychiatrist and senior clinical researcher at Oxford University who is leading the program said: “This programme could have significant implications for how arts and culture are used to improve the mental health of young people in the future in a way that is engaging and accessible across diverse groups.” 

The project follows previous preliminary research which found that online cultural experiences reduced negative feelings in the young people surveyed compared to a traditional museum website.

Around 1,500 young people from underrepresented backgrounds will be involved in the project, specifically LGBTQ+, autistic people, ethnic minorities and those living in deprived areas as well as those on NHS mental health support waiting lists.

Dr Sheriff said: “Most mental health problems start before 25, yet young people are the least likely to receive mental health care, with some groups such as ethnic minorities even less likely. Much of the support currently offered by health services, such as medication and talking therapies are inaccessible and unacceptable to many of the young people who need it most.

Professor Kam Bhui, co-lead of the programme, said: “There is a massive treatment gap which we hope to fill.”

The project is hosted by Oxford Health NHS Trust and led by researchers from Oxford University in collaboration with other NHS Trusts, UK universities, museums and charities.

Helen Adams, from Oxford University’s Gardens, Libraries and Museums, which is partnering on the project, said: “In our previous research, young people told us they want to connect with the human experiences of different people across the world and throughout history, good and bad, and told from different perspectives.

“Museums and other cultural institutions have the potential to meet this need but recognise that many stories embedded in their collections of artworks and artefacts are yet to be unlocked. Museums strive to create safe and inclusive spaces both in person and online, but know they are not always seen as accessible or relevant by many young people.”

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