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New project to take a systemic approach to improving adolescent mental health in disadvantaged communities

A research team led by Professor Peter Fonagy, Chief Executive of the Anna Freud Centre and Head of the Division of Psychology and Language Sciences at UCL, has been awarded a UK Prevention Research Partnership (UKPRP) Consortium award of £5.3 million. The project aims to improve adolescent mental health in disadvantaged communities.

Evidence shows that people of lower socioeconomic status have a higher likelihood of developing and experiencing mental health problems. There is also evidence to suggest that young people who were struggling financially before the pandemic will be worse off, leading to more difficulties that will further impact on their mental health.

Named ‘Kailo’, from the Proto-Indo European word meaning connected or whole, the project will bring together:

  • Leading mental health researchers, system modellers and evaluators from UCL and the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) North Thames; and Exeter University and the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration South West Peninsula (PenARC);
  • Social researchers and designers from Dartington Service Design Lab and Shift;
  • Voluntary sector mental health practitioners from the Anna Freud Centre and Redthread;
  • An Expert Advisory Group co-chaired by Professor Sir Michael Marmot (Director of the UCL Institute of Health Equity) and Dame Rachel de Souza (Children’s Commissioner for England).

Professor Peter Fonagy, Chief Executive of the Anna Freud Centre, said: “The pandemic has placed an unprecedented strain on young people’s mental health and, even before the pandemic, evidence suggests that poor mental health is on the rise in this group. We know all too well that impact and disadvantage are not equally felt in society – young people from minoritised and economically disadvantaged groups suffer the most. Here is an opportunity to design something innovative to address this pernicious problem."

The funding will support a multi-disciplinary team of leading scientists and practitioners working alongside communities to develop locally tailored strategies to combat the underlying causes of mental ill health in their area.

During the initial phase of the five-year initiative, Kailo will be trialled in two distinct communities experiencing differing forms of disadvantage: North Devon, an area which is rural and sparsely populated, and Newham in East London, an area of dense urban population. The research will test the feasibility of Kailo across these contexts, so that the model can be refined and implemented more widely in subsequent years.

The UKPRP funding is part of a wider £50m multi-funder initiative to improve population health and reduce health inequalities.

This work was supported by the UK Prevention Research Partnership, which is funded by the British Heart Foundation, Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Government Health and Social Care Directorates, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Economic and Social Research Council, Health and Social Care Research and Development Division (Welsh Government), Medical Research Council, National Institute for Health Research, Natural Environment Research Council, Public Health Agency (Northern Ireland), The Health Foundation and Wellcome.