Open Minds was first started by two medical students, Kelly Clarke & Emily Titherington, at University College London in 2009, on the basis of a simple premise: If educating people about mental health and mental illnesses has been shown to increase help-seeking behaviours and better outcomes, and if people tend to be more comfortable discussing sensitive issues with their peers than others, why not combine the two and create an initiative where students run workshops for other students on mental health?
Their medical school was supportive of the idea and the initiative kept on growing. King's College London started their branch of Open Minds in 2013, with Imperial College London joining in 2014. In 2015, not only did Queen Mary University of London establish their own branch, but we had our first branch outside of London when Hull University set up their own branch.
We were never going to be happy carrying out the OpenMinds programme on a 'hunch' that our workshops made a difference, so we took it a step further. In 2013, we began collecting data for a research study investigating if Open Minds was beneficial for the students receiving the workshops and after much rigorous work, our study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Prevention Science in 2017. The findings? That Open Minds improved the knowledge of and attitudes towards mental illness and knowledge of help seeking behaviours in school students.
So where are we now? Still ever as determined to provide peer to peer education on such a crucial topic as the day this all started and still just as passionate about educating young people on conditions that have been stigmatised and 'brushed under the carpet' for the longest time.