Future Minds NI

Lead Research Organisation: University of Ulster
Department Name: Sch of Psychology


Northern Ireland (NI) has high rates of mental illness and suicide, and one reason is the region's history of conflict. A new generation of young people who have not known the worst of the violence are also experiencing high rates of mental illness. There are concerns about the effects of intergenerational transmission of trauma, where parental trauma exposure and mental illness increase the risk of mental illness in children. Several mechanisms may be at play, including the effects of trauma on parenting, possible biological effects of trauma that may be passed to the next generation, and the effects of living in a community that has suffered deprivation and violence. The project therefore has two themes: adolescent mental health and suicidal behaviour, and intergenerational trauma. There are two targeted groups, marginalised young people in deprived areas and college students. This work will contiguously align with the research team's ongoing projects, but add in substantial new elements to them; particularly the EU-funded, £6million Our Generation (OG) project which will deliver trauma-informed interventions to over 30,000 young people in areas affected by the conflict; and the Student Psychological Intervention Trial (SPIT) of a novel online intervention for mild mental illness.

Future Minds will identify the mental health research needs for young people in NI through an agenda setting exercise with young people themselves, and an evidence review, both of which will be disseminated to stakeholders as a report and policy briefing, and launched at the mini conferences and policy round table, in collaboration with our partner mental health charities, Action Mental Health and Mental Health Foundation. This project also includes two pilot studies to expand and connect ongoing multidisciplinary research projects. The first is in the use of chatbots to augment mental health services. The applicants are currently developing and testing chatbots to support adults with mental illness in a range of ways. This pilot will allow us to examine the utility of chatbots in adolescent mental health and suicide prevention. In keeping with our themes, the target groups are marginalised young people (including people with disabilities and people who identify as LGBTQIA+) and college students. The second pilot will co-design and test the feasibility of a study on intergenerational trauma across 2 or 3 generations, recruiting those involved in OG. This study will include the same questionnaires as an ongoing prevalence study of mental illness and adversity in young people, currently being undertaken by one of our collaborators. This study will also establish a protocol for and examine the feasibility, of collecting and analysing DNA samples, in a similar way to that currently used in the SPIT project.

Young people are at the core of this project. The project will provide 5 £500 Bootstrap awards to young people to promote novel ways of highlighting issues relating to adolescent mental health. These will be showcased at our dissemination events. Young people (student mental health ambassadors) identified the themes for this project and endorsed the bootstrap awards idea. Future Minds is a partnership with the NI Childrens' Commissioner and Youth Action NI, and will be guided by a young people's advisory group which will include a diverse range of young people from across NI, identified with our partners and the OG advisory board. Future Minds will support the establishment of a research community and multidisciplinary teams to build research with and for young people to promote adolescent mental health and suicide prevention, and address intergenerational trauma. Future Minds will have benefits for young people in NI, the UK, and internationally. It will underpin future studies to advance our understanding of adolescent mental illness, and support the development of novel interventions to promote the well-being of future generations.

Technical Summary

This project involves 3 pilot studies, all co-created and co-produced with young people:
1. An on-line survey and focus group study to identify the priorities for young people's mental health research. The research areas in the survey will be based on those identified in an evidence review. The survey will be distributed to young people, carers and parents and promoted through secondary schools (representative of NI), community groups and young people involved in OG, and through our partner organisations' networks. The findings will be discussed, and the priorities refined to establish the final list in 4 focus groups with young people in different parts of NI.
2. Our team are developing chatbot interfaces and systems, and examining their utility in adult mental health. This pilot will allow us to examine the utility of chatbots in adolescent mental health and suicide prevention. Four focus groups will examine the acceptability of chatbots to marginalised young people and college students:
-To improve access to services, by signposting to sources of support; and to enhance the delivery of services;
-To identify and promote help seeking for suicidal thoughts and behaviours.
We will record the discussions and analyse the data using thematic analysis.
3. We will co-design and test the feasibility of a study of intergenerational trauma examining the role of parental trauma and mental illness, parenting practices, and community and socioeconomic factors. We will co-design the protocol and pilot test using psychological scales, many of whom feature in a Children and young peoples' prevalence study in NI, to promote comparability across cohorts. Additionally, we will test the feasibility of collecting saliva samples to allow the examination of genotype, epigenetics and microbiome.
Both pilot studies will build a foundation for future multidisciplinary studies in key areas relating to adolescent mental health and suicide prevention, and intergenerational trauma

Planned Impact

Adolescent mental illness and suicidal behaviour are important and costly public health problems that prevent young people from realising their full potential. Marginalised young people in deprived areas are at particular risk, and in NI the risk is exacerbated by the impact of the conflict and the implications of the intergenerational transmission of trauma. The transition to college is also a time when mental illness starts to emerge and this context presents opportunities for early intervention to prevent mental illness, reduce dropout and maximise our investment in third level education.

Young people
Young people, particularly marginalised young people in deprived areas, and college students, are the main beneficiaries because the projects will inform the development of effective interventions and approaches to the delivery of treatment and care. We will also directly empower young people by incorporating them as partners throughout the process, ensuring we identify with them the problems that they wish addressed, and start to create together the tools with which to start to remedy these. Through our Bootstrap awards we will allow them to have wholly-owned projects which they can bring from conception to realisation, boosting their self-belief and fostering genuine youth-led innovative solutions.

Wider society
By improving the mental health of young people, and addressing the intergenerational transmission of trauma we will enhance the mental wellbeing of the next generation, which will in turn have a positive impact on wider society.

Policy makers
The project pilot studies and agenda setting study will give policy makers evidence to inform policies to improve the mental health of the next, and future generations, and find better ways of identifying and supporting young people who have suicidal thoughts and behaviours. The application includes letters of support from the Department of Health (welcoming the project to inform strategic direction and services), The Royal College of Psychiatrists in NI (endorsing the themes and population groups targeted), and key NI political parties (expressing a willingness to engage and an endorsement of the themes).

Health and social care professionals, community workers and mental health care practitioners
The information from the pilot studies will inform practice and promote the development and delivery of interventions to support young people's mental health, to promote resilience, halt the effects of intergenerational trauma, and for suicide prevention.

Groups working with, and representing young people
Our partner agencies and mental health charities will be able to highlight the young people's mental health research priorities identified in our agenda setting study. They will be able to work with academics to campaign to ensure that these research needs are addressed. These organisations will also benefit from the information garnered though the agenda setting study, about young people's mental health research priorities.

Academic Researchers
By underpinning future novel studies exploring the mechanisms in the intergenerational transmission of trauma and the use of chatbots to support young people's mental health and suicide prevention, our studies will accelerate the advancement of these research fields.
The findings and methodological advancements will therefore benefit academic researchers.


10 25 50
Description Children & Young People's Emotional Health and Wellbeing in Education Framework (Northern Ireland)
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
Impact The Framework includes a series of interventions which are being rolled out across NI's schools, these include resilience interventions and resources for teachers and parents, as well as specialist one to one interventions for children who require additional mental health support. There is a wellbeing hub, best practice guides and training for teachers. There is also a plan to introduce CAMHS teams to schools and a text a nurse scheme for young people who need immediate support.
URL https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/publications/children-young-peoples-emotional-health-and-wellbeing-e...
Description Independent Review of Education
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Description Mental Health Strategy Northern Ireland 2021-2031
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
Impact The Strategy comprises 35 actions, several of which have already been delivered: The plan for a Regional Crisis Service; Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Service; and the plan for a single Regional Mental Health Service.
URL https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/publications/mental-health-strategy-2021-2031#:~:text=The%20Strategy%20...
Description Strategic Framework for Youth Justice NI
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Description Atlantic Innovation Research Network
Amount £3,000,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 422560 
Organisation Higher Education Authority 
Sector Public
Country Ireland
Start 04/2022 
End 05/2026
Description Our Generation collaboration with AMH northern ireland 
Organisation Action Mental Health
Country Australia 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution AMH were the lead applicants on a Special EU Programmes Board PEACE IV funded project - Our Generation. Ulster University will lead a rapid literature review with Partners, to identify best practice training models for building capacity of key contacts of Children and Young People including teachers, youth workers and volunteers, those in child-care settings and parents, carers & grandparents to support the mental and emotional resilience of Children & Young People and address the impact of trauma exposure ie childhood adversities (ACEs). Ulster University will annually evaluate and disseminate the outcomes of the programmes in relation to their impact on the pathways to peacebuilding and resilience, and attitudinal evidence of progress towards good relations through completion of a quality assurance report. This report will include a review of effectiveness of outreach, engagement and co-design processes, including geographic and sectoral take-up; identification of needs commonly identified by multiple groups and programme activities common to multiple groups in addition to identification of best practice examples and recommendations for project. delivery.
Collaborator Contribution AMH will serve as the lead partner on the OUR Generation Project. A Lead Partner Team have been appointed to work with the project funder, project partners and associate partners, key stakeholders including project beneficiaries to develop & implement formalised processes and structures, ensuring effective delivery of the project. Action Mental health will deliver a range of capacity building to support peer mentoring to Key Contacts and a suite of emotional wellbeing and peace building programmes for children & young people. Co-operation Ireland focus on connecting groups on a cross community and cross border basis based upon common needs and shared interests with the development of activities and training to address issues, specifically around the promotion of emotional resilience, empathy and understanding underpinned by building peace and reconciliation in post conflict Ireland. Co-operation Ireland will also undertake outreach, engagement and relationship building activities with those communities and groups most affected by the legacy of the conflict with victims and survivors, ethnic minorities, ex-prisoners/former combatants, youth at risk, displaced persons and former members of the ex-state forces especially for those whose experiences can be passed onto subsequent generations for the purpose of shared learning, building resilience and promoting positive relations. This delivery will take place in Urban Village Areas and border areas in Northern Ireland within school settings. AMH will also work in tandem with other Project Partners to create a range of inter cultural, cross community and cross border events. PlayBoard's focus is on the critical role of play as a means of supporting both the development of childhood resilience and as a mechanism for positively addressing differences at individual, familial and cross-community level. Through a range of practical and playful exercises the Spaces to Be programme will focus on breaking down barriers caused by transgenerational traumas and adverse experiences, such as, those caused by The Troubles. Using play, we will build resilience in children and young people by recognising and celebrating difference, in turn supporting their positive mental health and well-being. Youth Action will carry out a number of roles on the OUR Generation project involving youth work and improving relations in community settings. Through best models of practice, they will deliver a suite of programmes that involve different training techniques, support peer mentoring and help develop relationships within communities for both young people and their key contacts. They will also have the important role of leading and managing the OUR Generation Youth Advisory Group so that young people are not only at the heart of the project but can also have a voice throughout. Youth Work Ireland are delivering programmes focused around empowering children and young people with emotional resilience and sexual health and reproductive education for 14-24 year olds in border areas in Ireland. With the Social Action project, they are also encouraging young people to take an active role in their communities. This will be delivered by building skills, leadership and teamwork in young people and offering grants to aid the enactment of positive change.
Impact Three groups of community programmes: Agenda for Peace, Be Well, Better Together, and Little Healthy Me in NI schools.
Start Year 2020
Description Contribution to International Public Policy Observatory engagement activities/ webinars 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The International Public Policy Observatory (IPPO) aims to mobilise and assess evidence from different geographical and institutional contexts to inform policymakers throughout the United Kingdom about the best ways to mitigate social harms associated with COVID-19. Our overall ambition is to contribute to better policymaking and thereby to the wellbeing of UK citizens.

The pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for policymakers and other decision-makers across the UK. They continue to be asked to make varied and complex decisions in quick succession. The range of evidence and information grows continuously - but if it's not easily accessible and relevant, it is not helpful. Indeed, it can even create obstacles to developing the effective measures that are needed to help society through the severe and widespread impacts of COVID-19.

The research that IPPO undertakes and commissions is shaped and framed by numerous and diverse conversations with decision-makers. Those interactions help us to identify important questions and issues that can benefit from rigorous knowledge synthesis, drawing on research and expertise from around the world.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL https://covidandsociety.com/about-ippo/
Description Future Minds Webinars 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We provided a series of public webinars on young people's mental health and suicide prevention. The goal was to examine current issues and trends and to set the research priorities for each area. The areas included; the pandemic, suicide prevention, PGBT mental health and physical activity.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020,2021