Developing a novel co-produced methodology to understand ‘real-world’ help-seeking in online peer–peer communities by young people experiencing emotional abuse and neglect

Vanessa Bennett, Chloe Gill, Pam Miller, Peter Lewis, Neur OX Ypag, Catherine Hamilton-Giachritsis, Iris Lavi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Recent systematic reviews suggest mediating factors (barriers and facilitators) of help-seeking for children and young people (CYP) with a range of mental health problems but highlight the need for a more robust methodology underpinned by theoretical frameworks. Emotional abuse and neglect is the most prevalent and pervasive form of abuse, with many CYP remaining unknown to professional services. These CYP are underrepresented in help-seeking research yet seek help from their peers via anonymous online publicly available message communities. Objectives: To sensitively co-develop qualitative methodology to explore ‘real-world’ data to inform our understanding of help-seeking for these CYP, and define potential mediators (barriers and facilitators) and mechanisms of change associated with online peer support. Methods: Co-production with 10 young co-researchers (YCoR; aged 14–18 years) from the NeurOX Young People's Advisory Group (YPAG) included co-development and triangulation to apply different research methods (i.e., interpretative phenomenological, thematic and conversation analyses) to analyse rich ethnographic material from 20 publicly available online message conversations between help-seekers experiencing or questioning emotional abuse and neglect. A theoretical model of adolescent help-seeking proposed by Rickwood et al. was used as a conceptual framework to guide methodological development. Results: The methodological approach facilitated the identification of barriers and facilitators of help-seeking contextualized to the lives of these CYP: understanding and validating of abuse, emotional competence, fears and uncertainties around disclosure, knowledge, motivational factors and connection/trusted relationships. Notably, positive changes in expressed or perceived ‘psychological state’ and/or intention to seek help were noticed in 9 of 10 message threads that included a ‘conversation’ (≥3 posts). Themes associated with change related to connection with supportive peers; compassionate responding and the safeness of the online community. The existing adolescent help-seeking model was found to be too simplistic to account for help-seeking associated with emotional abuse and neglect. Conclusion: The novel methodological approach offers a meaningful way to explore ‘real-world’ data with YCoR, for a population underrepresented in help-seeking research. Proposed relational mechanisms involve connection, compassion and online communities. Further research coproduced with YCoR with diverse care experiences and characteristics is required to upscale the methodology and further validate and extend the findings. Public Contribution: The core study was co-produced with 10 YCoRs from the NeurOX YPAG who have been involved in over 135 h on and offline work. Their roles involved co-deciding the direction of the study, evolving methodology, detailed co-analysis and reflective processes throughout all aspects of the study, interpretation, presentation and discussion of the findings with the NSPCC and Childline, and involvement in all communications. Additional consultation and involvement included further interested members of the NeurOX YPAG for the final online workshop and dissemination outputs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3124-3142
Number of pages19
JournalHealth Expectations
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. Health Expectations published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • children and young people
  • co-production
  • emotional abuse
  • help-seeking
  • neglect
  • online
  • peer support

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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