Gill Attrill, Director of the UKRI Adolescence, Mental Health and Developing Mind initiative shares her thoughts.
Mental health as a human right is the theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day, which provides a great opportunity for me to share some early thoughts as the incoming Director of UKRI’s Adolescence, Mental Health and Developing Mind initiative.
This ambitious, £35m programme runs to 2026 and is exploring how mental health needs emerge in young people, what makes some more resilient or vulnerable than others, and how we can promote positive mental health and wellbeing by intervening early. We’re funding seven flagship projects across these areas, looking at mechanisms, interventions and wider approaches.
The crisis in young people’s mental health is a huge concern. Each week, more stories appear about the downturn in young people’s wellbeing, and the difficulty in accessing services and support.
Our work is timely and vital. The crisis in young people’s mental health is a huge concern. Each week, more stories appear about the downturn in young people’s wellbeing, and the difficulty in accessing services and support. Far too many young people and families are struggling to get the help they need. These stories and experiences can leave us feeling powerless and uncertain, exacerbating the challenges we face.
That is why it’s so important to celebrate advances in our understanding of the factors that influence young people’s mental health, and approaches to supporting them. We must inspire commitment and action.
In finding sources of hope, I have been immediately struck by a golden thread that runs through our programme: that young people’s mental health is everyone’s business, and we all have a role to play in supporting and securing it. This attitude is built in to the overall initiative, with the Medical Research Council, Arts and Humanities Research Council and Economic and Social Research Council coming together the fund the programme in an important demonstration of unity and shared priority.
Crucially, we also see this attitude lived out at the level of individual funded programmes, which are bringing together an exciting range of researchers across psychology, psychiatry, epidemiology, arts and humanities, gaming technology and many more disciplines. Furthermore, we are seeing rich new collaborations with local services, third sector providers, digital and tech partners. True interdisciplinary work like this takes hard work, building understanding and finding common ways of working to enhance methods and findings. But it is worth it - we are seeing that it has a multiplicative effect, bringing creativity and fresh approaches to problems that can feel intractable.
I’m also really impressed by the way that young people’s voices and views are influencing the design and conduct of the research studies, as advisers as well as participants. There were some great examples of this at a recent conference run by ATTUNE, one of the funded projects, which is exploring mechanisms by which Adverse Childhood Experiences might put young people at greater risk of developing mental health needs. Films and artworks produced by young people helped to bring emerging findings to life. As we move into the next phase of the programmes, it will be critical to make sure that young people are at the forefront of sharing the knowledge we generate, influencing policy and practice.
These two threads, of interdisciplinarity and coproduction with young people, bring me hope that programmes like ours can contribute to bringing about a reality in which mental health is truly recognised as a universal human right.
About the Adolescence, Mental Health and Developing Mind initiative
The Adolescence, Mental Health and Developing Mind initiative is a £35million UK-wide programme funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and led by the Medical Research Council (MRC) with the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
NCB will be working with the 7 project teams until 2026 to help ensure that the learnings from these projects have an impact on policy and practice, and ultimately improve the system of support for young people with mental health needs. We will link emerging findings with practitioners, key organisations working with the target groups, and policymakers to facilitate the rapid translation of evidence synthesis into emerging policy issues.
Find out more here.