"It's definitely been a roller coaster" : an exploration of youth service users' understandings of personal recovery and experiences of intentional peer support : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Clinical Psychology at Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand

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Massey University
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Worldwide, young people aged 18-25 experience high rates of mental distress. Youth mental health services are under immense pressure, resulting in ongoing unmet need. Currently, Aotearoa policy supports recovery-oriented practice, however literature is sparse on how youth understand personal recovery. Furthermore, peer support is an established but underutilised recovery-oriented intervention, which may be viable as a complementary or alternative modality to conventional services. However, little is known about the experiences of young people accessing peer support. Additionally, collaboration with young people is paramount if we are to create responsible and responsive youth research. This thesis aimed to explore youth service user understandings of personal recovery in the context of mental distress. It also aimed to explore their experiences of accessing intentional peer support. The research used co-production with 12 youth service users across the project. A further 26 youth service users were recruited through their involvement in a mental health service (delivered in the Wellington region) and interviewed as research participants. The data were analysed separately for each study aim, using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). The first aim explored how youth understand personal recovery in relation to mental distress. Recovery was understood to be a complicated and multifactorial phenomenon, involving connection with the internal and external worlds. There were three superordinate themes relating to youth understandings of recovery: recovery is paradoxical; recovery is awareness about yourself; and recovery is connecting with others. The second aim explored participant experiences of accessing Intentional Peer Support (IPS). IPS was seen as a novel and personalised intervention, which supported participants if they were able to connect with their peer support workers. Regarding experiences of peer support, three superordinate themes were identified: experiences of business as (un)usual; seeing themselves reflected; and peer support as a tailored practice. Overall, findings demonstrated how young people held important and meaningful information about their recovery experiences. In turn, this research provided much-needed lived experience perspectives on the utility of IPS as an intervention for youth. Furthermore, this research demonstrated that co-production can and should be utilised by researchers (including those at doctorate level), despite academic constraints. Taken together, these findings emphasise the importance of youth-appropriate recovery-orientated interventions within clinical practice and provides a platform for further research into youth experiences of IPS.
Listed in 2023 Dean's List of Exceptional Theses
Young adults, Mental health, Rehabilitation, Peer counseling in rehabilitation, New Zealand, Dean's List of Exceptional Theses