Adolescent Mental Health and Development in the Digital World

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: School of Medicine

Abstract

We will work with young people to use digital technology to transform adolescent mental health and provide a safe, and supportive, digital environment to tackle the unmet need arising from mental health disorders in those aged 10-24 years old. We are facing a youth mental health crisis; in the UK, one in eight young people have a mental health disorder, and one in four young women aged 17-19 have significant depression or anxiety with half of those having self-harmed; non-suicidal self-harm has nearly tripled over the past 10 years, while suicide rates per 100,000 adolescents have almost doubled. However, less than a third of all young people with mental health disorders receive any treatment. Many mental health and wellbeing apps exist, but most have no evidence base and some could even be harmful. Meanwhile, few research-based digital interventions have been shown to have impact in the real world. The youth mental health crisis has coincided with huge changes in society with creation of the 'digital environment' where being online and using social media has become central to young people's lives. While social media can be a helpful place for accessing information, exchanging views and receiving support, it has also been linked with depression, suicide and self-harm. Yet not all young people are at risk of mental health problems with social media we don't yet understand why some young people are more vulnerable than others. The COVID-19 crisis has been associated with increased mental health problems and greater online activity in young people. While their need to access trusted support online is greater than ever, social media platforms are not designed to meet mental health needs of young people.

Aims & objectives.
We will work with young people in our Young Person Advisory Group to:
1. increase understanding of the relationship between digital risk, resilience and adolescent mental health.
2. develop and evaluate preventative and personalised digital interventions.

We aim to:
- identify risk and resilience factors related to troublesome online experiences and activities, to prevent or reduce the emergence of depression, anxiety, and self-harm in young people.
- understand how individual differences affect digital engagement (e.g. with social media and games) and adolescent brain and psychosocial development.
- build, adapt and pilot new a generation of personalised and adaptive digital interventions incorporating a mechanistic understanding of human support with a new digital platform for delivery and trials in adolescent mental health conditions.
- develop and test a novel socially assistive robot to help regulate difficult emotions with a focus on adolescents who self-harm.
- develop and test a new digital tool to help adolescents better manage impulsive and risky behaviour with a focus on reducing the risk of self-harm.

Applications & benefits.
This work will translate new knowledge into practical tools to support young people negotiate the digital world, develop resilience and protect their mental health. Our involvement of young people means that the outputs from the research will be suitable and meaningful. Young people will be actively involved shaping the research at all stages. Young people, their caregivers, teachers, clinicians and charities will benefit from a range of co-created apps and tools to manage youth mental health issues. Young people will benefit from research training offered as part of their involvement. Policy makers and academics will benefit from new understandings of risk and resilience in the digital world to support novel interventions and evidence-based policy. Our work will establish a new, ethical and responsible way of designing digital platforms and tools that supports young people's mental health. Our Mental Health & Digital Technology Policy Liaison Group and Partners Board will translate our research into a step-change in mental health outcomes.

Technical Summary

Objectives
We will work with young people in our Young Person Advisory group to:
- increase understanding of the relationship between digital risk, resilience and adolescent mental health
- develop and evaluate preventative and personalized digital interventions.

We aim to:
- identify risk and resilience factors related to troublesome online experiences and activities, to prevent or reduce the emergence of depression, anxiety, and self-harm in young people.
- understand how individual differences, affect digital engagement (e.g. with social media and games) and adolescent brain and psychosocial development.
- build, adapt and pilot new a generation of personalized and adaptive digital interventions incorporating a mechanistic understanding of human support with a new digital platform for delivery and trials in adolescent mental health conditions.
- develop and test a novel socially assistive robot to help regulate difficult emotions with a focus on adolescents who self-harm.
- develop and test a new digital tool to help adolescents better manage impulsive and risky behaviour with a focus on reducing the risk of self-harm.

Methods to be used across the programme include; longitudinal analyses, quantitative multivariate and machine learning approaches, ecological momentary assessment, qualitative analyses, feasibility trials, mixed-methods process evaluation, user-centred co-production and human computer interaction methods. Planned, reciprocal linkages between work packages will enable cross-cutting themes on responsible innovation, impulsivity and emotion regulation to be investigated across disciplines and themes. Involvement work with young people shaped the bid and will occur at every stage of the research process.

Application and exploitation: Our Mental Health & Digital Technology Policy Liaison Group and Partners Board will ensure that our work is used in the real world to deliver a step-change in mental health outcomes for young people.

Publications

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