Holly’s report: how YPAG meetings can help shape research

By Sonya Prime,

As the meeting began, we discussed some admin tasks (agreeing ground rules for the group; making a decision to raise the age range of the group) and then moved on to a presentation from a group of people planning a new study investigating how exercise in young people affects mental health, particularly depression.

An RCT of energetic activity for depression in young people

The study will be a Randomised Control Trial of Energetic Activity for Depression in Young People – or the READY trial. So far, there is little evidence proving the benefits of exercise in young people’s mental health, and the study is looking to change this. If exercise does provide significant benefits, it could help many young people struggling with depression alongside other treatments such as therapy.

For the trial, there will be 24 sessions over 12 weeks, involving 13-17 year olds with mild to moderate symptoms of depression from Norfolk, Suffolk, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. It is going to be a randomised control trial with three groups:

  • One group will complete high-intensity exercise.
  • One group will complete low-intensity exercise.
  • The last group will complete social non-exercise activities. This is the control group, and it will ensure that any benefits noticed in the first two groups are not just a result of social activity with other young people with depression.

The sessions will include registered exercise professionals and mental health support workers. There will be additional support on healthy living, and of course, adjustments for safety amid COVID-19.  During the sessions, participants’ heart rates will be measured, and impact on mental health will be recorded afterwards.

Reflecting on recruitment, retention and outcome measures

The researchers asked the group about our thoughts on the study and what else they might need to consider. We discussed the effect of people dropping out from the study either before it starts or during – particularly related to discontent with which group participants are randomly placed in. We discovered that there are measures put in place in this study (and other studies) that ensure this does not negatively affect the results of the study. Additionally, the researchers will ensure that participants understand that they could be placed into any group. We also discussed how the effect on mental health could be observed in the short, medium and long term, and agreed that it is important that any benefits of exercise last, and don’t fade too quickly. The researchers told us that there will be a mix of questionnaires, interviews and focus groups put in place to glean information over a period of time, and to hear what each participant feels about the effects of exercise on their own mental health.

Informing anti-obesity strategy

After this, we welcomed another researcher who is investigating the effects of living in a certain area and their thoughts on food (e.g. healthy eating) and obesity. This work will help inform the local authority’s obesity strategy. During the study, there were two sessions. The first visit involved an interactive mapping activity with participants at a Play Centre, about what it is like to live in that location, what participants like and dislike about living there. A suggestions box was left at the Centre for participants to use to contribute any further thoughts they had after the researchers left. The second visit focused more on the topics of being overweight and obesity, including an emphasis on the affordability of healthy food, crime, transport and places to go and eat. The participants discussed solutions to barriers to healthy living that area that the researchers can hope to implement later.

Getting the best from online meetings

The researchers were here to ask us how we have managed virtual meetings amidst COVID-19, and ways in which a study such as this one could implement alternatives to face to face methods. Previously, participants would have written ideas and opinion on sticky notes that could then be organised onto a large sheet of paper – the researchers found this was an effective way of finding out how each participant felt and getting their opinions. The researcher asked for ideas about replacing methods such as sticky notes and paper to online methods that are just as effective, interactive and inclusive.


Our group suggested the possibility of online whiteboards – there are many of these out there, and some could be very useful to the researchers in collecting all the information and opinions of the participants during the two meetings. We also suggested the use of breakout rooms in virtual meeting software such as Zoom, and how these can help bring the personal interactive feel of in-person visits online. Other formats such as Padlet could be set up for participants to add comments to in-between the sessions and these comments can be anonymous.

To finish up our meeting, we talked collectively about the impact of our contributions in the previous meeting we had together. We all felt a sense of accomplishment, and I’m looking forward to the impact we can have next time.