Following a critical narrative review method, the following databases were searched: Psychinfo, Sociological Abstracts, and Social Work Abstracts. In the first phase of title and abstract screening and in the second phase of full text screening, inclusion criteria consisted of: (1) Publication type: Academic/Doctoral articles (2) Study type: Any study type (e.g., qualitative, quantitative, theoretical, and mixed method). (3) Population: Adolescent participants with mental health concerns and (4) Issues (a) adolescents with formal diagnosis, self-identified symptoms, or co-morbid symptoms and (b) claims of focusing on adolescent experiences. A final sample yielded 54 articles. Analysis occurred in two phases: (1) data extraction of key study descriptors (e.g., research questions, research design, key findings); and (2) a critical analysis of how authors claimed to capture adolescent voices.
Findings revealed instances of both centering and decentering of youth’s voices, representing both discordance and concordance between what authors claimed and what they demonstrated. Instances of discrediting (i.e., epistemic injustice) included: use of language and underlying assumptions that devalued youth voices, unclear connections between stated methods claiming to prioritize youth voices, and described research processes; and methods not aligning with stated goals (i.e., understanding youths’ ‘lived experience’). Instances of centering (i.e., epistemic justice) included: clear links between chosen methods and research descriptions; and use of appropriate methods, research design, and theoretical frameworks to meaningfully capture youth voices (i.e., arts-based, dialogic, critical social theory).
This paper allows for a critical review of research claiming to capture the mental health experiences of youth. By demonstrating ways in which research both decenters and centers youth voices, researchers and practitioners can more effectively engage with and understand the experiences and needs of this population. This presentation invites social work researchers to critically reflect on ways we investigate and build a professional knowledge foundation, which is also very subject to epistemic in/justice.