Main location of work
Why the work is important
Most mental health problems start in childhood or adolescence, and their incidence in children and young people is increasing. Currently the majority of those affected do not receive professional support or interventions, and the outcomes are modest for those that do. The Department of Health and Social Care mental health research goals (2020-2030) call for research with the potential to halve the number of children and young people experiencing mental health problems.
This Theme, led by internationally renowned experts, will focus on understanding how mental health problems are caused and maintained as children and young people grow up, the values and preferences of children and young people and their families, and account for the common co-occurrence of cognitive, language, and physical health needs.
The Theme’s underpinning hypothesis is that improved understanding of the biological, social, and psychological mechanisms underlying common mental health problems in children and young people will translate into more targeted, effective, and accessible prevention and treatment.
The Theme will:
- Bring together established experts and future leaders from across disciplines and institutions, ensuring research activities maintain a multidisciplinary focus and integrate a thorough understanding of the wants, needs, and experiences of children and young people, their families, and communities.
- Create sustainable infrastructure to deliver translational research that spans understanding key mechanisms across child and adolescent development and how these can be modified and applied to advance prevention and treatment.
The Theme’s infrastructure and innovation will accelerate mental health science, and translate it into interventions that are developmentally sensitive to prevent, treat, and maintain long term recovery from mental health problems in children and young people.
What work will be carried out
Work Package 1: Innovation in involvement and research methods
- Leads: Professor Kam Bhui & Dr Anna Lavis (Universities of Oxford & Birmingham)
We will co-develop innovative research methods and participatory models of engagement with children and young people, their families, and communities to capture diverse views and experience by applying experience in methodologies from social science, humanities, and the creative and performing arts. We will also expand and empower our networks of children and young people and their families, drawing on the expertise of the Flourishing and Wellbeing Theme.
Work Package 2: Innovation in identification and modification of mechanisms underpinning mental health
- Leads: Professor Alan Stein, Dr Eleanor Leigh & Dr Felicity Waite (University of Oxford)
We will co-design tools to identify and modify mechanisms that underpin the onset and persistence of common mental health problems among children and young people, drawing on BRC-wide expertise (e.g. the Better Sleep Theme), to assess key biological, psychological, and social mechanisms, and explore transdiagonistic and complex contexts. We will prioritise the development of digital tools that can be administered at scale and across ages.
Work Package 3: Innovation through research-ready networks
- Family Hubs Leads: Professor Jane Barlow & Dr Alex Hendry (University of Oxford)
- Preschool & Primary Schools Leads: Professor Lucy Bowes & Dr Tessa Reardon (University of Oxford)
- Secondary Schools Leads: Professor Mina Fazel & Dr Julia Badger (University of Oxford)
- Clinic Leads: Professor Cathy Creswell, Associate Professor Polly Waite, Dr Ray Percy & Professor Stella Chan (Universities of Oxford & Reading)
We will develop networks of research-ready family hubs, schools, and clinics, to support the recruitment of children, young people, parents, and carers from diverse geographies and circumstances to longitudinal and experimental research, allowing us to identify and test key mechanisms and novel interventions.
Work Package 4: National engagement and collaboration
- Leads: Emily Lloyd & Professor Cathy Creswell (University of Oxford)
- Collaboration partners: Professor Simon Gilbody (University of York), Professor Helen Sharp & Professor David Taylor-Robinson (University of Liverpool)
We will collaborate with colleagues at the Universities of York & Liverpool who are leading major birth cohort studies in regions that experience marked inequalities (including Born in Bradford, the Wirral Study, and C-GULL Liverpool). We will identify target mechanisms for intervention using existing cohort data, translate these to develop interventions (with Work Packages 1 and 2), and test them in diverse contexts through our research-ready networks (Work Package 3).
Patient and public involvement, engagement and participation (PPIEP)
- Leads: Stacey Clements (University of Birmingham), Emily Lloyd, Susannah Perkins & Heather Dyer (University of Oxford), alongside colleagues from the Oxford Health BRC PPIEP network.
PPIEP is at the heart of this Theme, with work focused on areas prioritised by patients, carers, community members, and clinicians. Collaborations and partnerships focus on areas of particularly high need in the Midlands, Yorkshire, and Liverpool.
To ensure our work follows patient and service need, and reaches practitioners and policymakers, this Theme will build on the work of the UKRI Emerging Minds Network led by Professor Cathy Creswell between 2018 and 2022. Our core administration and communications team will support all 4 work packages through maintaining and expanding the close links with the voluntary and community sectors, health and social care, educators, and policy makers developed through Emerging Minds.
Increasing research capacity
Theme lead Professor Cathy Creswell is also the Director of the NIHR Mental Health Incubator which aims to increase capacity in mental health research. It supports professionals by, for example, providing personal accounts from mental health researchers and sharing training opportunities. The activity areas are co-led by senior and early career researchers spanning different disciplines, supporting the career development of postdocs and graduate Fellows, and working to enhance PPIEP and lived experience research capacity.