University of Exeter: Exeter part of research to improve adolescent mental health with £5.3 million award

A research team led by Professor Peter Fonagy OBE, University College London (UCL) Psychology and Language Sciences, and involving mental health researchers from the University of Exeter has been awarded a UK Prevention Research Partnership (UKPRP) Consortium award of £5.3 million for a project that aims to improve adolescent mental health in disadvantaged communities.

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

Leading mental health researchers, system modellers and evaluators from the University of Exeter, the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) North Thames, the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration South West Peninsula (PenARC), and UCL.
Social researchers and designers from Dartington Service Design Lab and Shift; and
Voluntary sector mental health practitioners from the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families 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).
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.

Professor Peter Fonagy 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 minoritized and economically disadvantaged groups suffer the most. Here is an opportunity to design something innovative to address this pernicious problem.”

Professor Tim Hobbs, Chief Executive from Dartington Service Design Lab, said: “The current system for addressing mental ill health has developed to be reactive, under the strain of limited resources. This means that a response is often triggered only when a problem becomes severe. This new, connected approach will support practitioners and community leaders to work with young people and families to co-design evidence-informed and locally tailored strategies designed to address the underlying causes of mental ill health in their area.”

PenARC Senior Research Fellow Dr Vashti Berry, of the University of Exeter, is a key member of the research team. She said: “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. A bold programme of developmental research will test the feasibility of Kailo across these contexts, informing refinements and subsequent wider implementation and evaluation in new areas.”

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