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UKRI have announced a major £24 million investment into improving the mental health and wellbeing of adolescents in the UK. One of the projects being funded is led by Professor Kam Bhui in the Department of Psychiatry, it will bring together diverse creative-arts, digital and health experts to investigate how adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can affect adolescents' mental health.

Group of young people dancing on stage with singer and a band. © ElenB

Seven newly funded and highly ambitious projects aim to generate a whole new understanding of the developing mind to enable young people to flourish.

Professor Bhui, principal investigator for ATTUNE (one of the funded projects), Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, said:

 

'I’m delighted to be leading ATTUNE: a remarkable partnership between the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford, a world leader in mental health research, and Falmouth University’s Games Academy and Creative Arts and Digital Health platforms, led by Professor Ma, Provost and co-PI.  

It’s a joy working with inspiring young people and the incredibly talented team of researchers and practitioners in the university, government, and NGO sectors. ATTUNE will listen to young people’s perspectives, and co-design prevention and care interventions. Using these exciting interdisciplinary methods, we aspire to transform social, education, health and care systems to provide therapeutic spaces and life opportunities for young people to flourish. We specifically seek to represent the perspectives of young people of diverse identities (race, ethnicity, gender, LGBTQ+) living in rural, coastal and urban areas. '

Professor Eunice Ma, co-principal investigator, Provost, Falmouth University, said:

   

'We are pleased that this exciting interdisciplinary project in collaboration with Oxford University will enable us to blend cutting-edge technology, psychology and creative arts and game based interventions to develop products and services for adolescent mental health. It will help the most vulnerable young people who are most in need of mental health prevention and intervention.'

Project summary

ATTUNE: Understanding mechanisms and mental health impacts of Adverse Childhood Experiences to co-design preventative arts and digital interventions, led by Professor Kamaldeep Bhui at the University of Oxford and Professor Eunice Ma at Falmouth University - £3.8m

This project will bring together diverse creative-arts, digital and health experts to investigate how adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can affect adolescents' mental health with the aim of developing new approaches to prevention and care. Children who suffer multiple ACEs which include abuse, neglect, loss events, poverty, discrimination, racism, and relational problems at home are much more likely to develop multiple social and developmental problems, including mental health disorders as young adults. We do not fully understand what makes an adolescent vulnerable to, or protected from, mental health problems following ACEs nor how to best protect and support affected young people, many of whom struggle to find and engage with care services. This research aims to address these gaps in knowledge and support by placing a diverse range of young people's lived experience at the centre of learning, co-design and planning via creative arts and writing, performance, film, music and state-of-the-art games technology.

 

Adolescence is a vulnerable stage of life for mental health when the brain is known to be highly sensitive to external influences. Previous research has shown that 75% of mental health problems emerge before the age of 18 so it is crucial we develop effective interventions that can be implemented at an early stage to help prevent or reduce mental health problems.

The collective aim of these new projects - which include improving social media to create a positive environment for young people’s mental health and using creative arts and visual tools to both learn from and support young people – is to better understand how and why mental health problems emerge and what makes some young people more susceptible or resilient than others.

This knowledge will be used to generate evidence that can lead to new approaches for improving adolescent wellbeing, educational attainment, sense of identity and social functioning.

The projects have been funded through the Strategic Priorities Fund, a UK Research and Innovation (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 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.

Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, Chief Executive of UKRI, said: 

 

'It is abundantly clear that more work is urgently needed to find effective ways to support the mental health of young people at a crucial stage in their lives. This portfolio of interdisciplinary projects will build the evidence and understanding that we need to combat debilitating mental illness in young people and allow them to fulfil their potential.' 

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: 

'As we look to build back better from the pandemic, the health and happiness of children and young people across the UK is an absolute priority. We are committed to investing in the mental health of adolescents, leveraging the world-class capabilities of UK researchers to deliver the very best outcomes for our young people.'

 

To read information about the other projects and the full press release

NIHR OXFORD HEALTH BIOMEDICAL RESEARCH CENTRE NEWS

Please follow the link below to read the news on the NIHR BRC website.

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