UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) have announced a major £24 million investment into improving the mental health and wellbeing of adolescents in the UK. The aim of the initiative is to support multi and inter-disciplinary research and innovation that will address an area of strategic importance aligned with government policy and research priorities.
One of seven projects to receive funding, Cathy Creswell, a co-applicant on the project led by Nottingham University, has been awarded £3.8m to examine the major societal challenge of building a safe and supportive online environment to protect and promote young people’s mental health. The four-year research programme Adolescent Mental Health and Development in the Digital World, starting September 2021, will address the major societal challenge of building a safe and supportive online environment with the aim of preventing or reducing the emergence of depression, anxiety and self-harm in young people.
Professor Creswell said:
I am delighted to be involved in this exciting programme of work which aims to capitalise on the potential of digital technology to improve mental health among adolescents. We will build on the fantastic network that we have built through the UKRI Emerging Minds Network to facilitate integration and communication within and beyond this ambitious programme of work.
Some of the areas the group will explore include: understanding how individual differences affect digital engagement (e.g. with social media and games) and adolescent brain and psychosocial development, developing and testing a novel socially assistive robot to help regulate difficult emotions with a focus on adolescents who self-harm and developing and testing a new digital tool to help adolescents better manage impulsive and risky behaviour with a focus on reducing the risk of self-harm.
Researchers will work alongside young people (who were involved in shaping the programme and writing the bid for funding) to increase understanding of the relationship between digital risk, resilience and adolescent mental health and develop and evaluate preventative and personalised digital interventions. Two young people are co-investigators on the programme and a Young Person’s Advisory Group (YPAG) is involved with every step of the research process.
Members of YPAG reflected on their experiences when participating in the development of the project, sharing their own personal journeys and describing how felt valued for their contributions. See below some of their testimonies:
YPAG member said: “It gives me a sense of community in parts of my life that I thought I was never going to be heard. I’m really proud of how this project has turned out and how the researchers made sure to listen to young people.”
Yasmin Rahman YPAG Member added: “I was impressed that the researchers took our feedback on board and treated us as peers in listening to our ideas.”
In the UK, one in eight young people have a mental health disorder, and one in four young women aged 17-19 have significant depression or anxiety with half of those having self-harmed; non-suicidal self-harm has nearly tripled over the past 10 years, while suicide rates per 100,000 adolescents have almost doubled. However, less than a third of all young people with mental health disorders receive any treatment.
The projects have been funded through the Strategic Priorities Fund, a UKRI cross-council initiative led by the Medical Research Council (MRC) in collaboration with the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
The interdisciplinary programme is led by Professors Chris Hollis and Ellen Townsend, both at Nottingham University.