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08 November 2021

Students to take part in mental health trial designed to help anxiety and depression

In September, 60 schools in London, Bath, Manchester, and Northampton began recruiting for a four-year trial aimed at assisting young people with anxiety and depression.

teenagers college school

The ‘Brief Educational workshops in Secondary Schools Trial’ (BESST), which is being led by academics from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, will see students self-refer on to a day long workshop where they will be taught techniques to successfully manage feelings of depression and anxiety by trained Educational Mental Health Support Practitioners (EMHPs). The hope is that this can then be expanded into a national program that is available to all students.

Half of those recruited will be provided with specific training methods to overcome depressive and anxious thinking, emphasising the importance of good sleep and time management, while also teaching students to challenge negative thoughts and learning to be mindful, while the other half will receive support through existing school delivered programs.

Once they have completed the workshop, they receive a workbook and an access to an app to remind them of the methods they were taught. They will also receive three follow up phone calls from the workshop leader to discuss how they are progressing.

“Rates of poor mental health in young people were on the increase even before the onset of COVID-19, but on the back of a disrupted 18 months with little schooling or social interaction, effective mental health support has become vital.”

Dr June Brown, Chief Investigator at King's IoPPN

The study follows a pilot which has already seen success at improving anxiety and depression in young people and was particularly effective at helping groups that have traditionally been seen to be hard to reach, including young people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds.

Dr Brown, the study's Chief Investigator from King's IoPPN said, “Our initial research placed a great emphasis on trying to reach groups that might not otherwise receive a professional standard of support until their symptoms become more severe. These early interventions, at a time when anxiety and depression are likely to first manifest, can mean that young people have the means to process these feelings in a healthy way in the future.”

While current government policy advocates for the development of effective education based mental health care, existing school delivered programs have so far been only modestly effective, placing a greater focus on treating younger children.

The investigators initially hoped to recruit 900 16–18-year-olds from 60 schools in the next two years, but early reports have seen much higher than expected levels of uptake and engagement. 

Dr Brown says “These unexpected levels of uptake demonstrate not only the appetite but also the need among young people to learn these types of skills. They are already very aware of the importance of maintaining good mental health – this trial is giving them the means and knowledge to do so.”

“The Brief Educational workshops in Secondary Schools Trial (BESST) will equip our learners to become more resilient and will enable them to regulate their emotions more successfully. Due to the recent pandemic, local mental health services have been severely stretched which means that programmes such as BESST are more crucial than ever in supporting schools and helping young people to manage and improve their mental health.”

John Keegan, assistant headteacher at Upton-By-Chester High School

Dr Brown concludes: “It is crucial that effective ways to help young people are available to help them better manage their difficulties so that they can fulfil their potential. Soaring levels of mental health problems among young people are undermining their wellbeing, friendships, and achievement at school and college, and the BESST trial findings will hopefully provide important data about a potentially valuable way to tackling the mental health challenges for our young people.”


This study was possible thanks to funding from the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR).

For more information, please contact Patrick O’Brien (Senior Media Officer) 

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June Brown

Reader/Associate Professor in Clinical Psychology