Madness and Mental Health: 2023-4

How (Not) to Talk to Young People about Mental Health

This lecture in the series Madness and Mental Health is presented by Rose McCabe, Lisa Bortolotti,and Michele Lim.

Agency is a person’s capacity to intervene in their surrounding physical and social environment in order to pursue their goals and interests. Most mental health difficulties emerge before the age of 25 and can affect one’s sense of agency. This is also a time when young peoples’ sense of agency and social identity is developing. When young people seek help from mental health professionals, these encounters may affect the young people’s sense of self and can undermine or increase their sense of agency.

We will talk about communication in video – recorded encounters between young people and mental healthcare practitioners in emergency services. We describe communication that adopts an agential stance towards the young person, including: (a) validating the young person’s experiences, (b) legitimising the young person’s choice to seek help, (c) refraining from objectifying the young person, (d) affirming the young person’s capacity to contribute to positive change, and (e) involving the young person in the decision-making process.

  • Speakers

    Rose McCabe is Professor of Clinical Communication at City, University of London and co-Director of the Centre for Mental Health Research at City ( mccabe). Her research focuses on understanding patient experience, professional-patient communication, the therapeutic relationship and developing interventions to improve communication, therapeutic relationships and outcomes of mental healthcare. Central to this work is involving people with lived experience in designing and evaluating new approaches to care. Key concepts of interest include agency, coercion, epistemic injustice, trust and engagement. She works across a range of issues (psychosis, self-harm, depression, dementia) and treatment settings (inpatient and community mental health care, emergency departments, primary care). She also works with community organisations and schools to improve mental health and wellbeing.

    Lisa Bortolotti is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Birmingham specialising in the philosophy of the cognitive sciences, with a focus on belief, rationality, mental health, and agency. She is the editor in chief of the journal Philosophical Psychology and her most recent book is Why Delusions Matter (Bloomsbury 2023), accessible to a wide audience. Lisa is involved in several collaborative projects exploring youth mental health and is creating and gathering teaching resources on misinformation and conspiracy theories at The Philosophy Garden (

    Michele Lim is a trainee clinical psychologist currently undertaking a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. Prior to this, she completed an MSc in Psychological Research (University of Oxford) and a BSc in Psychology with Education (UCL). In her clinical work, Michele has worked with children, young people and adults with various emotional and psychological difficulties including trauma, anxiety, depression and eating disorders. As a researcher, she has spoken and presented at international conferences, and holds publications in journals including Neuron and Nature Human Behaviour. Alongside her clinical and academic work, she is passionate about widening public engagement with the field of psychology. She has collaborated with various organisations via co-production on multiple research projects — ranging from improving young people’s sense of agency in mental healthcare to feasibility trials for psychological interventions.