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Researchers from Oxford, Kent, Falmouth, London and Leeds came to together to address the complexities of adolescent mental health at the Attune conference.

Professor Jason Arday addressing young people at the Attune Conference 2023
Professor Jason Arday addressing young people at the Attune conference 2023

The historic Holywell Music Hall at Wadham College, Oxford, became the epicentre of a conference organised by the UKRI-funded ATTUNE Project, to discuss the potential of art-based methodologies, and giving special attention to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). 

The conference delved into critical questions, including the lived experiences of ACEs in different young people and their impact on mental health, the definitions and explanations of mental health, wellbeing and ACEs, and the role of creative and participatory arts approaches in understanding ACEs and implementing cost-effective prevention and care interventions.

Key findings and insights

The investigators showcased insights from the Work package 1 and Work package 2 in the presentations, offering a visual understanding of the project's findings and progress.

Georgina Fletcher, headteacher of a primary school, shared her perspective on what had worked to help young people in her school.

She said: "We are going to try and address the elephant in the room and provide young people with something to support them in their lives rather than just focusing on Maths and English."

At the conference, several significant themes were shared from the research conducted in work packages 1 and 2. These themes revolved around the desires and needs of young people concerning their mental health. On a question what young people want for their mental health, following answers were shared as findings.

  • To be listened to
  • People with lived experience/deep understanding
  • Acceptance of own feelings/condition
  • Safe way to express self/identity
  • Acceptance of identity and feelings from others

According to Fletcher, the research findings highlight the crucial role of games and gaming as a means of escape and fantasy to navigate daily challenges. Additionally, the importance of community, belonging, and connection as protective factors for well-being, including LGBTQIA+ and online gaming communities, emerged as key findings from the research.

Jason Arday, Professor of Sociology at the University of Cambridge, and keynote speaker at the event, said:

"There's never been a more difficult time to be young. It is so important you do not lose sense of how great you are."

He also emphasized the importance of making ATTUNE's innovative approaches to engagement normative in addressing adolescent mental health. The project timeline is divided into six work packages.

Professor Kam Bhui, principal investigator for ATTUNE, expressed hopes for the ATTUNE Project:


"We hope this work will have an impact on the mental health sector to serve the needs of young people more generally and that you will become part of this coalition to change the ways things happen at the moment."

In addition to the researchers and various stakeholders, Nina Piotrowska and Grace Bennett, both young members of the ATTUNING Policy Sub-Group, also shared their personal lived experiences during the conference.

Nina Piotrowska emphasised the importance of involving people with lived experiences in shaping support and services for young people dealing with adverse mental health. She shared a personal journey marked by challenges, including the loss of a parent and struggles with dissociation and Complex PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

"It felt like I was going crazy. No-one could understand me when I said I didn't feel real, I couldn't recognise the people around me or there was a stranger staring back at me in the mirror. They weren't trauma-informed and looking back made my mental health worse," she said.

She stressed the importance of lived experience in mental health recovery and called for trauma-informed care, and stressed the importance of hope, trust and change.

"Attune brings that hope. When we strengthen our services for young people, envelope their lived experiences and ensure they are trauma-informed, we build trust with young people, which creates safety," she added.

Grace Bennett, shared her experience of a late diagnosis of dyslexia and the impact it had on her education. She called for improvements in schools, colleges, and universities to diagnose young people earlier in life, providing them with the necessary support and understanding. 

Please listen too and believe in young people, no matter their cognitive needs.
- Grace Bennett
Young person Grace Bennett speaking at the Attune conference 2023


Operating across multiple locations, including Oxford, Falmouth, Leeds, Kent, and London, the ATTUNE project forges collaborations with various universities, the Centre for Mental Health, and Young People Cornwall. 

Drawing a diverse gathering of more than 80 attendees, the conference was attended by representatives from NSPCC, NCB, Department of Health and Social Care, London ACEs Hub, the NHS, Kazzum Arts, Traumascapes, and Trauma Breakthrough.

Find out more about the ATTUNE Project