Abstract: WITHDRAWN: A Critical Review of Mental Health Research Methods to Capture Youth Voices: Interrogating Ways of Social Work Knowledge Building from Epistemic in/Justice Lens (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

WITHDRAWN: A Critical Review of Mental Health Research Methods to Capture Youth Voices: Interrogating Ways of Social Work Knowledge Building from Epistemic in/Justice Lens

Thursday, January 13, 2022
Treasury, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Andrea Greenblatt, PhD Student, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Adolescence is a critical period of development and has been widely researched in the field of social work and across disciplines. Adolescent mental health, in particular, has experienced tremendous growth in knowledge production, building on the foundational works of Erik Eriksen’s (1963) psychosocial stages of development, James Marcia’s (1966) identity statuses, John Bowlby’s (1951,1969, 1973, 1980, 1988) attachment theory, and Felitti et al.’s (1998) Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). While this body of research has moved the field forward, some key observations are worth exploring: First, a significant amount of research perceives adolescent development to be linear and/or stage-based; and second, studies tend to prioritize the voices of ‘experts’ when discussing youths’ mental health experiences. There is, however, a subset of research that has indeed focused on youth voices when trying to understand their mental health experiences. The objective of the current presentation is to explore research methods underlying the current state of this critical research field. Specifically, it critically compares what authors claim to do in their studies (i.e., epistemic injustice) with what is actually ­demonstrated­ (i.e., epistemic justice) in order to understand how research captures the mental health experiences of youth.

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.