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New research to improve mental health in young people

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26 September 2019

We are delighted to announce four new research projects looking at different aspects of mental health in young people at the University of Bristol. The projects have been funded by the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute as part of the Mental Health in Young People research initiative, which is looking at ways to improve mental health and wellbeing for young people, with a particular focus on University students.

Funded projects

Dr Oliver Davis: Social media, help-seeking and peer support in student mental health

Today’s young people live their lives online, with little distinction between the online and offline worlds. This makes social media a rich source of information on real world behaviour relevant to mental health in this age group. It is crucial that we understand the positive and negative consequences of growing up in a digital world, including how social media are used as a means for seeking support and providing help to peers. A House of Commons Science and Technology Committee inquiry recently reported on the impact of social media and screen-use on young people’s mental health, concluding that although this is a vitally important question, there is currently frustratingly little good evidence. This project will develop the tools necessary to understand the causal impact of social media behaviour on mental health and provide a sound basis for the development of just-in-time nudges and peer interventions.

Find out more about Dr Oliver Davis' work

Nicholas Turner: Seeking, accessing and barriers to student support for mental and emotional health problems – improving university services

This is a priority for research as, in order to provide the most appropriate and useful support for the emotional wellbeing of students, we need to gain a better understanding of their help-seeking behaviours and what support is needed to enable access to university services.

To inform and improve the University’s strategy for the provision of support for emotional wellbeing in students it is important to understand: the type of support students are likely to access, how useful they find support services available to them, what the barriers to accessing and utilising support services are and whether student characteristics may impact on their help-seeking behaviours. This understanding will help identify where and how university resources and efforts could be focussed to ensure emotional support services are accessible and useful to students.

Find out more about Nicholas Turner's work

Dr Lucy Biddle: Helping to prevent suicide in young people/students: a user-informed review of existing online support services and their onward signposting strategies

Increasing levels of mental health crisis and suicide are being reported amongst UK student populations. It is unclear how best to respond to this problem, since young people are sometimes reluctant to seek help with their mental health. A wide range of potentially valuable online services are available, from static webpages to interactive resources such as Big White Wall (recommended to UoB students) and 24-hour text services, e.g. Shout. However, existing qualitative evidence shows that many online services do not adequately help young people when experiencing suicidal crisis, and little is known about how and to what extent they support engagement with “real world” care pathways in a timely way. Further research involving students and online service providers could help prevent suicide by identifying the specific characteristics that constitute good, engaging online help for students/young people during suicidal crisis.    

Find out more about Dr Lucy Biddle's work

Dr Felicity Sedgewick: Breaking down, dropping out: supporting mental health and academic achievement among autistic students

Autistic people experience worse mental health (MH) than non-autistic people, with 80% having one diagnosis and 40% having two or more. However, they struggle to access appropriate support, leading to high rates of self-harm and suicide. These problems are highest among cognitively-able autistic people – those who are most likely to attend university.

Transition to university can be difficult for anyone, but especially autistic students. Autism is associated with specific challenges around change to routine, social anxiety, and planning. Struggling to cope with these demands can create or exacerbate MH problems in autistic young people.

Currently we know almost nothing about MH among autistic students at the University of Bristol (UoB), whether they access support, and how useful they find support designed for non-autistic people. Doing so may not only improve student retention, but highlight their particular needs to UoB faculty, staff, and Wellbeing Services, creating a better experience for our autistic students.

Find out more about Dr Felicity Sedgewick's work

More about the Initiative

Experts in multi-disciplinary research, Elizabeth Blackwell Institute will bring together researchers from different disciplines, facilitating meetings and workshops and funding research projects to tackle this issue head on. With a network of academics from different backgrounds, and with strong Students Union representation, the Mental Health in Young People research initiative aims to deliver cross-disciplinary, University-wide, high quality research in this area.

The new Elizabeth Blackwell Institute Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow in Young People’s Mental Health will be closely aligned with the work of the initiative. We recently spoke to Myles-Jay Linton, about his research and why a joint approach to research in this area is so important.

Read our interview with Myles-Jay Linton, VCF in Young People’s Mental Health.

Further information

Find out more about the Mental Health in Young People Research Initiative.

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