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Adolescent Mental Health and Development in the Digital World: From understanding risk and resilience to preventative and personalised digital interventions

1st September 2021 to 31st August 2025

In this project, we work with young people, using 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 are not evidence-based and some could even be harmful. Meanwhile, few research-based digital interventions have been shown to have an impact in the real world. 

The youth mental health crisis has coincided with huge changes in society with the 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.  

This project works collaboratively with a Young People Advisory Group (Sprouting Minds) to increase understanding of the relationship between digital risk, resilience and adolescent mental health, and develop and evaluate preventative and personalised digital interventions. 

The project aims 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 a new 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 new digital tool to help adolescents better manage impulsive and risky behaviour with a focus on reducing the risk of self-harm. 

The project is translating new knowledge into practical tools to better support young people in navigating the digital world, developing resilience and protecting their mental health. The involvement of young people means that the outputs from the research will be suitable and meaningful. Young people are actively involved in 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. Policymakers and academics will benefit from new understandings of risk and resilience in the digital world to support novel interventions and evidence-based policy. 

The project will establish a new, ethical and responsible way of designing digital platforms and tools that support young people's mental health. The Mental Health & Digital Technology Policy Liaison Group and Partners Board will translate the research into a step-change in mental health outcomes. 


Marina Jirotka
Professor of Human Centred Computing

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