Tackling youth anxiety and depression

A pioneering research centre focused on understanding and developing new ways of reducing anxiety and depression in young people will be established at Cardiff University with funding of £10m from the Wolfson Foundation.

The Wolfson Centre for Young People’s Mental Health, based at Cardiff University working with Swansea University, will be a dedicated interdisciplinary research centre where Cardiff and Swansea University experts will work in partnership with, Welsh Government, NHS Wales, University Health Boards and schools across Wales.

The Wolfson Centre will focus on five scientific areas:

  • It will examine longitudinal data that track children over time to better understand how anxiety and depression develop. It will also test reasons for the recent increases in youth anxiety and depression.
  • It will consider the role genetic and environmental factors play in anxiety and depression in young people.
  • It will develop and test a new intervention to support young people and families where a parent suffers from depression.
  • It will look at the role schools play in promoting positive mental health in youngsters.

Led by experts from Swansea University working jointly with Cardiff University, it will use information uniquely available in Wales to better understand long-term outcomes of those young people who experience anxiety and depression.

Paul Ramsbottom, Chief Executive of the Wolfson Foundation said: “There is still much to understand about the causes, prevention and treatment of mental health, and it is an area that has traditionally been underfunded in the UK.

“By launching this initiative and making this award, we want to make a statement about the importance of young people’s mental health – and of supporting high quality research into the subject.

“Our expert, international panel rated the proposal from Cardiff extremely highly. The research expertise that has been assembled is impressive, ranging from genetics to epidemiology.

“The Centre will build excellent links to schools and health services across Wales, and the research will be informed by the experiences of young people – all based on a data-set that gives Wales a distinct advantage in research in this area.”

Cardiff University’s Professor Frances Rice who will co-direct the new centre alongside Professor Stephan Collishaw, said: “We know that 75% of young people with an anxiety disorder or depression go unrecognised and receive no intervention. The impact on the young person, their families and their life chances can be devastating.

“That’s why we are delighted, following a rigorous selection process, that the Wolfson Foundation has chosen to make such a substantial investment to establish the Wolfson Centre for Young People’s Mental Health.”

All the Wolfson Centre’s scientific findings will be developed in partnership with young people, practitioners and policy makers and the information generated will be used to shape public health and school policies with the aim of helping promote better mental health in young people.

Co-director Professor Stephan Collishaw added: “The ‘living lab’ of Wales offers a national test-bed where research can seamlessly inform policy and practice with the potential for rapid benefits for its 1.1m young people.

“We are already a global leader in mental health research and genetics with unique connections at other universities, Welsh Government, the NHS and schools.”

The Wolfson Centre will work with leading experts in the field from around the globe and will develop the next generation of youth mental health experts.

Cardiff University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Colin Riordan said: “The new Wolfson Centre for Young People’s Mental Health will harness Wales’s outstanding science and connectivity.

“We are delighted to have the opportunity to build on our strengths in science and our partnerships with Welsh schools, Swansea University, Welsh Government, the NHS and relevant charities, with a view to creating new ways to prevent and treat anxiety and depression in young people.”

TJ Rawlinson, Cardiff University’s Director of Development, said: “The Wolfson Foundation has been an innovative and catalysing funder of outstanding research and infrastructure. Their transformational support now, in the vital area of mental health, is visionary and timely.”

As well as academic leads for each area of research, ten Wolfson Future Leaders Postdoctoral Fellows will be appointed.

There are also plans for a number of Wolfson PhD students as well as an annual adolescent mental health summer school which will provide training in adolescent mental health research to fellows, students and practitioners at the early stages of their professional training.