A recent scoping review has shed light on the potential rewards and pitfalls of employing co-production methodologies in psychosis research. Co-production, an increasingly influential research approach, involves equal collaboration between academic researchers and individuals who have lived experience of the subject matter. In the realm of mental health, and specifically psychosis, this approach has proven both enriching and challenging, according to the review, which was published in the International Journal of Mental Health Systems.
The review found that co-production enables a unique, more nuanced insight into psychosis by incorporating the lived experiences of service users. Traditional research often fails to capture the complexities of mental health disorders, something that co-production aims to rectify by encouraging open dialogue and mutual respect between researchers and participants.
By involving service users in the research process, outcomes showed improved confidence, social connection, and the dismantling of stigma among participants. Co-produced research also led to stronger relationships and better communication between service users and health professionals, in some cases even producing data that might not have been otherwise obtainable.
However, the review also highlighted significant obstacles that could hamper the success of co-produced research. One of the major barriers was the power differential between academic researchers and service users. This unequal dynamic often led to tokenistic involvement rather than a truly collaborative effort.
Researchers were found to sometimes control the process unilaterally, deciding what materials to share or even how to interpret participants’ feedback. This underlines the essential need for acknowledging and mitigating these power imbalances for genuine collaboration.
Another hurdle identified was the social and economic constraints affecting the co-producers. Co-produced research often drew from a demographic skewed towards older, female participants living in urban areas, which may not fully represent the broader community of those with lived experience of psychosis.
The study strongly suggests that future research needs to address systemic barriers, including the stigma associated with mental health and the specific power dynamics between healthcare professionals and patients. Researchers must be diligent in their recruitment strategies, ensuring they are inclusive and consider the barriers to participation that many individuals face, such as economic disadvantage and mistrust.
While the scoping review noted a consensus about the positive outcomes of involving service users in the research process, it also emphasised the need for more rigorous, methodologically sound studies to fully understand the impact and reach of co-produced research in the field of psychosis.
The findings indicate a critical need for further research and standardisation in the application of co-production in psychosis research. While the benefits are clear, meaningful co-production is limited by various systemic and methodological challenges that need to be comprehensively addressed. Researchers are urged to recognise these challenges from the outset and to actively engage in strategies that facilitate genuine, equal collaboration.