Young People’s Participation and Mental Health: A Protocol for Practitioners is intended to support individual and organizational capacities to safeguard the mental health and psychosocial well-being (MHPS well-being) of young people in participation processes, and to ensure young people’s meaningful participation across programming, research, advocacy and communications. It is intended for use by all individuals (including young people themselves) who plan or implement participatory processes with young people -- not only those in the mental health field. 

Learning outcomes

The Protocol provides practical steps, principles, and resources to safeguard young people’s MHPS well-being in the context of participation and engagement. 

The Protocol takes users through a series of Stepping Stones, as follows:

Stepping Stone 1: Self-Reflect provides activities to help individuals become more aware of power relations, assumptions and biases concerning young people, mental health and diversity. This self-reflection can help overcome barriers to inclusive, safe and meaningful participation of young people.

Stepping Stone 2: Assess Resources and Capacities provides a checklist with guiding questions for users to reflect upon and assess whether sufficient time and resources (human resource capacity and budgets) are allocated to support safe and meaningful participation of young people – and how to proceed if not.

Stepping Stone 3: Identify Risks, Harms and Benefits of Participation offers guiding questions, a risk assessment format, and links to an interactive activity for use with young people to identify and assess risks, harms and benefits to young people’s MHPS well-being arising from participation opportunities.

Stepping Stone 4: Mitigate Risks and Harms and Strengthen Support Systems provides guiding questions, ideas for risk mitigation actions, and links to an interactive activity with young people to plan actions that mitigate risks or harms and strengthen support systems enhancing safe participation of young people. This step also includes checklists to ensure sufficient capacity and preparations to support and sensitively respond to young people in distress and other high-risk scenarios.

Stepping Stone 5: Follow Up and Monitor Outcomes provides checklists and tools to ensure monitoring of intended and unintended outcomes of participation on young people’s MHPS well-being and follow-up with young people to increase accountable participation. 

The protocol also contains a Collaboration Stepping Stone section, which provides a checklist of actions to create an enabling environment for young people. Staff can use this Collaboration Stepping Stone at any point, whenever young people are brought into the participatory initiative.


  • Programme managers and field staff who plan or implement participatory processes with young people in research, programming, advocacy or communications
  • Young people who are actively engaged in participatory initiatives, especially if they are speaking up about sensitive issues or are living in high-risk contexts


This digital format is a reflection of the Young People’s Participation and Mental Health: A Protocol for Practitioners. 

Throughout this Protocol are opportunities to note your reflections and actions to address gaps. The responses are saved to the browser so that they persist on future visits and each journal entry is private to you. At the end of the protocol, on the "Exit" page, you can print the journal and all of your responses. Action-related inputs will be available separately to print and share among your colleagues, if you prefer.

As you navigate through the Protocol, the status of your progress will be updated, saved and indicated in the Table of Contents to the left of the screen. 

You may download the PDF version of the Protocol and/or download the Checklists and Activities for offline use.


This module follows the structure of the Young People’s Participation and Mental Health: A Protocol for Practitioners, but you may navigate the course freely using the table of contents to the left of the screen. 

There are six chapters in the module. Following the introductory chapter, each chapter relate to one of the Stepping Stones described within the Protocol. Under each chapter, you will find the key guidance, checklists and activities that apply for that specific Stepping Stone.

Complementary resources and activities are found in the appendices, including guidance on collaboration with caregivers and stakeholders, service mapping for referral pathways, steps for self-care, and additional guidance for researchers, communications and advocacy staff. The order of the appendices will vary, compared to the printable version of the Protocol, to facilitate an easier flow of information.

Contact details

Marcy Levy,

Adolescent Development Manager,  Adolescent Development and Participation (ADAP) Division

For technical issues, please contact



This resource is intended to encourage reflection and critical thinking around how to do one’s best in terms of ensuring the safe and meaningful participation of young people while also protecting their mental health and helping to put safeguarding systems and supports in place. Discussion and actions around participation, mental health and psychosocial well-being, and safeguarding are complex. There is no one-size-fits-all programming approach. Careful consideration of the context and young people’s best interests is required.

The protocol complements existing UNICEF guidance for safeguarding. UNICEF offers a Child Safeguarding Online Course, available to both UNICEF personnel and external organizations, to understand and meet UNICEF’s child safeguarding expectations. The protocol also reflects guidance, including UNICEF’s ‘Ethical Standards in Research, Evaluation, Data Collection and Analysis’ and UNICEF’s ‘Child Safeguarding Toolkit for Business’.

This protocol uses guidance from the UNICEF mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) theory of change in the Global Multisectoral Operational Framework for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support of Children, Adolescents and Caregivers Across Settings and specifically Outcome 3 on improving community capacity for non-stigmatizing, accessible, available, and quality MHPSS service delivery. Community participation is key both for Outcome 3 and this protocol. Participation recognizes the important role that children, adolescents, their families and caregivers and broader community play as drivers of their own mental health and psychosocial well-being.