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02 July 2021

King's projects to form part of new £24m investment into adolescent mental health

This investment from UK Research and Innovation will fund seven highly ambitious projects, two of which will be led or co-led by King’s College London researchers, to generate a whole new understanding of the developing mind.

teenagers college school

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) have announced a major £24 million investment into improving the mental health and wellbeing of adolescents in the UK.

Seven newly funded and highly ambitious projects will aim to generate a whole new understanding of the developing mind and enable young people to flourish. Two of these seven projects, EDIFY and RE-STAR, will be led or co-led by King’s College London researchers. A third project, ATTUNE, will be involve King's researchers as Co-Investigators.

This funding investment comes at a welcome time, as building work begins on the new Pears Maudsley Centre for Children and Young People, due to open in 2023. This new state of the art centre will bring together King’s leadership in mental health research with clinical excellence to find solutions together, which will transform the landscape for children’s mental health.

Eating Disorders: Delineating illness and recovery trajectories to inform personalised prevention and early intervention in young people (EDIFY)

Led by Professor Ulrike Schmidt at King’s College London and Dr Helen Sharpe at the University of Edinburgh, this £3.8m project will see researchers work directly with young people with eating disorders to develop an interdisciplinary, evidence-based model of how these conditions develop and how young people recover.

Eating disorders are common and affect people of all genders, backgrounds and identities, with devastating impacts on young people’s lives. This new research will explore the diverse experiences of people with eating disorders, characterising the different pathways into these conditions, as well as distinct stages of illness - at-risk, early stage and late stage - so that intervention can be personalised at each stage.

We are absolutely thrilled to have received this funding, which will allow us to create a major step-change in eating disorders research. Our work will ensure that all young people with eating disorders get access to rapid, effective treatment, appropriate to their needs

Professor Ulrike Schmidt

Lived experiences of young people with eating disorders will be at the heart of the project, with creative methods such as theatre and comedy being used to increase understanding amongst the public and professionals. It is hoped this novel approach will transform the way eating disorders are understood and treated by challenging stereotypes and providing a 'map' for clinicians to tailor treatments to a young person’s individual circumstances.

Regulating Emotions: Strengthening Adolescent Resilience (RE-STAR)

Led by Professor Edmund Sonuga-Barke, this £3.3m project aims to help young people with neuroatypicalities such as Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) traits reduce their chance of developing depression. Many young people with either a diagnosis or demonstrable traits of these conditions develop depression during adolescence, but we don’t know who is most at risk or more importantly, how to intervene to reduce that risk. This project will address that gap by exploring the specific role of difficulty in regulating emotions.

Why do so many young people with either Autism or ADHD develop mental health problems as they grow through adolescence? RE-STAR offers our brilliant team of scientists, clinicians, educational and performance practitioners, working together with young people with neuroatypicalities, a unique opportunity to get to grips with this most important yet under-studied question, in a way that, we hope, will have a real impact on young people’s lives. We can’t wait to get cracking!

Professor Edmund Sonuga-Barke

The project will bring together a range of experts including scientists, artists, teachers and doctors who will work directly with the young people affected, whose views and day to day experiences will be at the heart of their work. Together they will develop a new way of understanding and measuring emotional regulation difficulties to build a platform for effective intervention and provide those at risk of depression with the skills to reduce their chances of developing the condition.

Understanding mechanisms and mental health impacts of Adverse Childhood Experiences to co-design preventative arts and digital interventions (ATTUNE)

Professor Craig Morgan, from the ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health will collaborate with partners on ATTUNE, a £3.82m project led by the University of Oxford and Falmouth University.

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 are delighted to contribute to this interdisciplinary programme that will provide insights into the impacts of adverse childhood experiences on young peoples’ mental health – and, most importantly, what can be done to mitigate the impacts. As part of this, data from the REACH Study will specifically contribute to extending our understanding of resilience following adversity.

Professor Craig Morgan

UKRI Investment

The aim of this new UKRI 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. Adolescence is 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.

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 fulfill their potential.

Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, Chief Executive of UKRI

The collective aim of these new projects 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 UKRI cross-council initiative led by the Medical Research Council (MRC) in collaboration with the Arts and Humanities Research.

In this story

Ulrike Schmidt

Professor of Eating Disorders

Edmund Sonuga-Barke

Professor of Developmental Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience

Craig Morgan

Professor of Social Epidemiology