Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Adolescence, mental health and the developing mind

The aim of this programme is to support and fund research that examines how mental health problems emerge in young people, what makes some more susceptible or resilient than others, and how we can intervene early to promote positive mental health and wellbeing.

Budget:
£35 million
Duration:
2019 to 2026
Partners involved:
Medical Research Council (MRC), Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

The scope and what we're doing

Adolescence is a time of rapid growth, learning and brain development, when our interactions with the world are changing hugely in the transition to adulthood.

The adolescence, mental health and developing mind programme supports research that examines how mental health problems emerge, what makes some people more susceptible or resilient than others and how we can intervene early to promote positive mental health and wellbeing.

Working with policymakers and people affected by these issues, including young people, parents and teachers, will be an important part of this programme, and a critical component to bringing about real-world changes from this research.

This £35 million programme is being funded by the government’s Strategic Priorities Fund and delivered by the Medical Research Council (MRC) with the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Scope and priorities

We support a wide range of research through this programme, including understanding the factors that might influence mental health as well as exploring preventative strategies and novel intervention approaches.

Research challenges include:

  • understanding the different factors that impact individuals during adolescence and how they interact, including genes, environment and social interactions
  • learning what mitigates risk and enables resilience
  • learning how to identify vulnerable young people early
  • exploring new methods, resources and ways of working
  • increasing the evidence base around what works well in schools for mental health support
  • developing a better understanding of online harms and how digital technology can be harnessed to promote positive mental wellbeing.

The programme will run until 2026 and is being delivered through four interlinked areas of activity.

Flagship research programmes

Multidisciplinary teams will address major research challenges, helping to identify what more effective prevention and intervention approaches for young people’s mental health might look like.

Methodological development

This workstream will generate and embed new research methods, tools, measures and resources in the field.

Community building

This workstream will establish a UK-wide network of researchers and stakeholders, oriented to the challenge in question, creating and strengthening multidisciplinary research collaborations, and facilitating interactions with policymakers, health, social care and education sectors. Critically, the voice of young people will be central to these developments.

Stakeholder engagement and knowledge mobilisation

This workstream will accelerate the implementation of research evidence into policy and practice by linking researchers, stakeholders and relevant organisations that share knowledge.

Partnership working

Several other government departments, including devolved governments, have supported the development of this programme and remain engaged in its delivery.

Why we're doing it

Why adolescence?

Adolescence is a critical, poorly understood period in the life course.

It is a crucial time when it comes to mental health. Three quarters of mental health problems emerge before the age of 24. The NHS Digital Survey 2020 indicated that one in six young people (16.6%) aged 11 to 16 years had a probable mental disorder. This figure increased to one in five (20.0%) among young adults aged 17 to 22, with a great prevalence in young women.

Understanding what puts young people at risk, or enables resilience, during and before adolescence is needed to understand how some young people thrive despite exposure to adversity.

Effective early intervention for those in need will promote positive mental wellbeing and better management of mental health problems.

A multidisciplinary approach

A multidisciplinary approach, encompassing medicine, biology, social science, arts and humanities among others, is critical to address the complex research challenges in this space and bring about better interventions to promote good mental health.

Breaking down silos and facilitating the sharing of expertise and resources across disciplines will be an important component of the programme.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Past awards

Engagement awards

11 awards worth £1.06 million were made as part of the engagement awards funding opportunity in February 2020.

View summaries of the 11 projects.

COVID-19 rapid knowledge mobilisation

Two awards worth a total of £400,000 commenced in September 2020 to support the rapid mobilisation of research to address the wellbeing and mental health needs of adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic. Co-production is the central aspect of both awards, with young people involved in all stages of the projects, including the design and development of engaging and accessible multimedia resources.

View summaries of the two projects.

Research programmes

Seven projects to a value of £24 million started in September 2021 under the research programme funding opportunity.

These four-year highly ambitious projects have been funded with the aim of generating a whole new understanding of the developing mind to enable young people to flourish.

View summaries of the seven projects.

View the research programmes funding opportunity on the UK government web archive.

Methodological innovation

13 awards to a value of £8.15 million started in November 2022 under the methodological innovation funding opportunity.

These awards will build develop innovative new approaches and novel research methods, concepts, tools and measures to build capability in the field of adolescent mental health research.

View summaries of the 13 projects.

Who to contact

Ask a question about the programme

Email: adolescentmentalhealth@mrc.ukri.org

Governance, management and panels

Programme Director

Gill Attrill, Deputy Director of Insights at HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), is Director of the Adolescence, Mental Health and the Developing Mind Programme. Gill commenced the role in September 2023 as a part-time secondment from HMPPS.

Gill is Deputy Director for HMPPS’ Insight Team, which provides a diverse and responsive evidence service to policy and operations, ensuring that decision-making and practice are informed by evidence, particularly from the latest academic research.

Work within her multidisciplinary team also supports the communication and sharing of effective learning through collaborations, network building and the development and application of insight from service users.

Gill was awarded the Inaugural International Psychology and Law Practitioner Award in 2011 and an OBE in 2012 for outstanding leadership, innovation and service design.

The programme was previously led by Professor Eamon McCrory, UCL, who was director from 2020 to 2023.

Research and stakeholder advisory board

A research and stakeholder advisory board has been established to provide advice and guidance to the programme. Members of the board are:

  • Professor Ed Bullmore (Chair), Professor of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge
  • Professor Ilina Singh, Professor of Neuroscience and Society, University of Oxford
  • Professor Chris Taylor, Professor of Social Sciences, Cardiff University
  • Professor Andrew McIntosh Professor of Biological Psychiatry, The University of Edinburgh
  • Professor Terrie Moffitt, Professor of Social Behaviour and Development, King’s College London and Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, Duke University, US
  • Dr Argyris Stringaris Chief, Mood Brain and Development Unit, National Institute for Mental Health, US
  • Vanessa Pinfold, Co-founder and Research Director, McPin Foundation
  • Lisa Harker, Director, Nuffield Family Justice Observatory
  • Alaster Smith, Head of Research Knowledge and Engagement, Deputy Head of Social Research and Deputy Chief Scientific Advisor, Department for Education
  • Alison Tingle, Senior Research Liaison Manager, Department of Health and Social Care
  • Representative of the programme’s young person’s advisory group.

Young person’s advisory group

A young person’s advisory group has been established to ensure that the direct experience of young people living with mental health issues is at the centre of the programme. The group provides guidance and advice as part of the programme’s governance structure. It also helps to shape the involvement of young people on our funding panels and assessment processes and co-facilitates training as part of this.

Involvement of Young People

Beyond the advisory group, a wide group of young people are involved in the programme. This includes young people helping us to review proposals, sit on funding panels, participate in interviews and contribute to scoping workshops.

Last updated: 4 September 2023

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