1) Social change, transitions and youth mental health
We know that, in developed countries, mental health problems amongst young people are rising. This includes anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide, especially amongst adolescents. However, we do not know why. Speculation has implicated widespread social changes (eg in social media, family forms, education and work) that have transformed the social niches of childhood, adolescence and early adulthood.
We will investigate the complex interrelationships between these changed niches, associated vulnerabilities and resiliencies, and trajectories of mental health development. We will focus on how short-term fluctuations in mental health crystallise into long-term problems.This will allow us to examine the extent to which recent social transformations explain increased rates of youth mental health problems, and through what mechanisms.
Initially, we will focus on trajectories in multiply disadvantaged groups and during critical developmental periods, when vulnerability to mental health problems is most pronounced.
2) Disadvantaged communities and mental health
We know that mental health problems are more common in communities characterised by multiple, linked disadvantages. In these contexts, persistent uncertain employment and financial insecurity (which are more common as a consequence of recent social changes) are particularly challenging, especially for young people and for minority ethnic groups.
Studies suggest that the impact of these disadvantages on mental health accumulate over time and can be exacerbated by other forms of stress, such as housing insecurity, violence and trauma, and discrimination. Experiences of discrimination amongst migrants and minority ethnic groups living in such communities may have more pronounced effects on mental health in the current social and political environment.
Furthermore, those with a severe mental illness (diagnosed rates of which are higher in some black ethnic groups in the UK) living in such communities experience particularly deleterious combinations of multiple disadvantaged statuses, in part because of discriminatory societal responses that compound social exclusion and make social reintegration challenging.
Informed by an intersectionality framework and our approach to ecological niches, we will investigate how individuals and communities experience financial insecurity, discrimination, and other linked disadvantages, how these impact on trajectories of mental health, and how, through small-scale and often collectively generated practices, individuals and communities build resilience in these challenging social conditions.
3) Work, welfare reform and mental health (Lead: Avendano, N. Rose)
Lead by Professor Mauricio Avendano Pabon and Professor Nikolas Rose, this programme addresses the challenge of mental health in the radically changed contexts of work and welfare provision. The combined effects of transformations in the nature and security of work and in the conditionality of welfare benefits, which embrace the goals of reducing benefit dependency and incentivising employment, are increased precarity in several areas of life for many people.
We will investigate the influence of these changes on the complex and dynamic links between trajectories of mental health in working families and the changing nature of work, the rise of less secure employment, and work-related welfare benefit programmes. This will include examining the impact on mental health of alternative social welfare programmes evaluated in ongoing randomised controlled trials (RCTs).
While there is growing evidence of the impact of welfare reform on wellbeing amongst poor households, our programme will examine the impact of a wider set of welfare reforms implemented in the UK since 2010 and identify the mental health impact of alternative social programmes that may be worthy of adoption and testing in the UK.