A research project to improve young people’s mental health post pandemic is being launched thanks to a funding boost from UEA Health and Social Care Partners.
It is estimated that up to 1.5 million young people in England are experiencing mental health difficulties as a result of the Covid pandemic. Low-income families, ethnic minority groups and those with pre-existing mental health conditions are among those most affected.
The new project, led by Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust in collaboration with UEA, will see researchers work with young people to better understand how they have been affected by the pandemic.
And the results will be fed back to local mental healthcare systems to inform positive change in policy and strategy.
The project is one of four to receive funding via the Power of Collaborative Research Strategic Fund, delivered by UEA Health and Social Care Partners (UEAHSCP) - a research partnership hosted by UEA to increase collaboration between health and social care organisations in Norfolk, Suffolk and North East Essex.
Lead researcher Dr Jon Wilson, from Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, said: “A recent Young Mind UK Survey, showed that two thirds of young people are concerned about their mental health in the long-term due to the impact that Covid would have on their social, educational and employment prospects.
“Many young people face income and job insecurity, educational and training disruption, food insecurity, poor housing and environmental quality, neighbourhood safety, social exclusion, and discrimination.
“Our work with service users during the first waves of Covid-19, showed that young people experienced increased anxieties relating to their mental health care delivery, with uncertainty about access to medications and therapy, concerns about telehealth and significant impacts on resilience due to social isolation and loneliness.
“But at present, mental health organisations and policymakers do not know what specific needs young people will have during the post Covid-19 recovery period.
“We know that there has been a rise in inpatient admissions and service demand, with a doubling of referrals to young people’s mental health teams in Norfolk and Suffolk since December 2020.
“We want to work collaboratively with young people to better understand what factors will influence young people’s mental health during the pandemic recovery period and who will be most at risk.”
The nine-month project will see researchers working with around 250 young people with pre-existing mental health needs.
As well as improving young people’s mental health, the four funded projects aim to help those living with long-term conditions and promote healthy ageing.
Other research projects to receive a share of the £75k funding include:
• A scheme to set up a 3D-printing service to produce surgical equipment tailored to individual needs, in one of the region’s hospitals, as well as setting up an offsite research and development 3D Printing suite. It is hoped that this project, led by Prof Sheng Qi of UEA’s School of Pharmacy, could help patients receive treatment more quickly and help reduce costs within the NHS.
• A project to co-produce interventions supporting multiple behaviour change in socially deprived communities, led by Prof Wendy Hardeman of UEA’s School of Health Sciences. It focuses on the ‘big four’ behaviours: unhealthy diets, smoking, physical inactivity, and excessive alcohol consumption. Service users, practitioners, researchers and policy makers will identify best practice and reach consensus on promising interventions. It is hoped that healthcare practitioners and others who support multiple behaviour change are better able to reach those who can benefit the most, use evidence-based approaches and empower people to make positive changes for their health and well-being.
• A project to improve care for patients with rheumatoid arthritis, led by Dr Max Yates of UEA’s Norwich Medical School, which will bring local data together to provide new insights into the provision of social care and improve support services. Social care data is often captured poorly, or missing, when considering care delivered by informal care givers. This leads to an incomplete picture when assessing the care needs of patients with rheumatoid arthritis. By harnessing data, this project will deliver a uniquely important resource for understanding the care needs of patients now and in the future.
Prof Charles ffrench-Constant, Pro-Vice Chancellor for UEA’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, and UEAHSCP Executive Board member said: “The aim of the Strategic Fund is to grow research collaboration across our partnership.
“We particularly wanted to focus on improving young people’s mental health, healthy ageing and living with long-term conditions.
“These areas were identified as key issues for people in Norfolk, Suffolk and North East Essex and we are committed to investing in research in these areas as a strategic priority.
“Our work in these areas has been impressive in the short time that the partnership has been in existence, but we are committed to growing collaboration and achieving greater impact in these areas,” he added.