Research on youth mental health awarded major funding

Researchers at Örebro University, Sweden have been granted 30 million SEK to study processes that more effectively may prevent mental health problems from developing in youths. The team will be focusing on underlying factors behind well-known problem behaviours to make it possible to target multiple mental health problems rather than treating one at a time. The initiative is supported jointly by the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research, the Swedish Research Council Formas, the Swedish Research Council, and VINNOVA - Sweden’s innovation agency.

– Despite decades of research on mental health problems in youths, there is a knowledge gap in terms of comorbidity. That is to say that different problems and factors together not only cause a stabilisation but also an escalation of the problems, says Margaret Kerr, professor and coordinator of the interdisciplinary study which involves researchers within psychology, history, political science, and public health sciences.

– There already are treatments focusing on individual problems. This may for instance be externalising behaviour such as criminality, violence or bullying, and internalising problems such as depression, low self-confidence or self-harm behaviour. At the same time, we are beginning to see that there are underlying factors contributing to all these kinds of behaviours.

The researchers will focus on some of the major risk factors for externalising and internalising problems: harsh parenting, sleep problems, stress, and peer harassment.

– We know that these concurrent risk factors may cause problems to linger but we are going to study if they, moreover, might be the actual cause of the problems in the first place.

A breakthrough

The project began as a collaboration between two psychology research groups: the Center for Developmental Research, CDR, and the Center for Health and Medical Psychology, CHAMP. CDR is very experienced in applying longitudinal methods, i.e. regularly following up large groups of children and youths over a longer period of time. CHAMP has the clinical competence and they are very experienced in the field of experimental studies.

– But for us to get a clearer picture of how comorbidity develops in young people’s everyday settings, we elaborated the project further together with researchers in history, political science and public health sciences at Örebro University, says Margaret Kerr.

– In this study, we will be following young people in six Swedish municipalities over five years. We will gather information from the youths themselves but also from their parents and peers. However, we will also work with interventions targeting the risk factors we have identified to see if this will affect externalising behaviour problems and internalising problems.

– If we are successful, it would be a breakthrough and help us to develop treatments based on whole new guidelines, concludes Margaret Kerr.

Text: Linda Harradine
Translation: Charlotta Hambre-Knight
Photo: Jesper Johanson