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New project part of £24m investment into adolescent mental health

22 July 2021

A new collaboration between UCL Institute of Education (IOE), the Anna Freud Centre and King’s College London has been awarded £3.3 million funding to generate a whole new understanding of the developing mind of young people on the autistic spectrum and/or with ADHD.

Teenager sat on wall

The project, led by Professor Edmund Sonuga-Barke (Institute of Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience, King’s College London), is one of seven highly ambitious projects funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to improve the mental health and wellbeing of adolescents in the UK. The total investment into the seven projects is £24 million. IOE researchers Dr Georgia Pavlopoulou and Emeritus Professor Jane Hurry join the RE-STAR project as co-investigators.

The project aims to help young people with neuroatypicalities such as Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC) traits reduce their chance of developing depression. Many young people with either a diagnosis or demonstrable traits of these conditions develop depression during adolescence, however, less is known about who is most at risk or how to intervene to reduce that risk. This project will address that gap by exploring the specific role of difficulty in regulating emotions.

Emeritus Professor Jane Hurry said: 

“Responding to a call for inter-disciplinary approaches to a sadly topical problem of the mental health of our young people, this project has responded with a strong commitment to working across psychiatry, psychology, education and performance art. This breadth of expertise will enable better understanding of the role emotional regulation plays in the mental health of autistic young people or young people with ADHD, how this manifests itself in a central part of their daily experience, school, and how performance art can offer an innovative approach for communication and change.”

Dr Georgia Pavlopoulou, Lecturer at the IOE and Anna Freud Centre Lead for Autism training in Children’s and Adolescents’ Wellbeing Services, said:

“We aim to create a unique partnership between developmental science and co-produced research to understand how we can prevent depression in neurodivergent adolescents, using a range of creative research and knowledge exchange methods. We will work with young co-researchers, clinicians, teachers and a multidisciplinary team of academic experts to understand why some neurodivergent adolescents develop depression, how they can develop the capacity to recover and get access to school support to minimise potentially negative effects of everyday stressors.”

Professor Edmund Sonuga-Barke added:

“Why do so many autistic young people or young people with ADHD develop mental health problems as they grow through adolescence? RE-STAR offers our brilliant team of scientists, clinicians, educational and performance practitioners, working together with young people with neuroatypicalities, a unique opportunity to get to grips with this most important yet under-studied question, in a way that, we hope, will have a real impact on young people’s lives.”

The seven UKRI projects will be used to generate evidence that can lead to new approaches for improving adolescent wellbeing, educational attainment, sense of identity and social functioning. The projects have been funded through the Strategic Priorities Fund, a UKRI cross-council initiative led by the Medical Research Council (MRC) in collaboration with the Arts and Humanities Research.

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