Children’s mental health project wins huge £2.5 million funding boost

Categories: Research, School of Health and Society

A new mental health project for children and young people has won £2.5 million funding. This is one of the largest research grants of its kind ever awarded nationally in the arts and arts therapies.

Arts4Us will bring together under one digital platform the best practice in arts and arts therapies, making it easier for young people and their families to find the crucial help they need.

Professor Vicky Karkou from Edge Hill University is leading this massive collaborative enterprise along with Co-Investigators Professor Scott Thurston and Dr Joanna Omylinska-Thurston from the University of Salford (pictured). The project will bring together more than 50 partners from academic institutions, NHS trusts, schools and community organisations in the North West.

Professor Vicky Karkou said: “One in five children and young people are struggling with their mental health as they transition from childhood to adolescence. We know that the services available do not cover their needs.

“Thinking and talking about problems is not always how children choose to communicate and resolve their problems. Creative interventions, like music classes, painting sessions, drama and theatre projects or dance movement therapy groups, are an effective alternative but may not be easily accessible in mental health services.

“Arts4Us aims to change that. We want to ensure children and young people will be able to access the mental health support they need regardless of where they live.”

The Arts4Us interactive platform will focus on 9-13-year-olds, encouraging them to develop skills around how to access and maximise the benefits of arts activities which support their mental health. They will help co-design all aspects of the project, ensuring the content and support is user-friendly and relevant to them.

NHS services will also be able to use the digital platform to signpost patients to support, building collaborations across community partners and healthcare in the North West and, as the project can be scaled up, also nationally and internationally.

Dr Joanna Omylinska-Thurston

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) awarded Arts4Us £2.5million in the third phase of its Mobilising Community Assets to Tackle Health Inequalities programme.  

Arts4Us will build on the success of arts-based group intervention project Arts for the Blues, also co-led by Professor Scott Thurston and Dr Joanna Omylinska-Thurston from the University of Salford along with Professor Vicky Karkou from Edge Hill University. Learning from Arts for the Blues project will be a useful blueprint to improve provision for children and young people through Arts4Us.

Professor Scott Thurston from the University of Salford, a Co-Investigator on the Arts4Us project, said: “This is a huge opportunity to make a much needed intervention in the mental health crisis engulfing the younger generation. Our recent experiences of training NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services staff in the Arts for the Blues model has showed us just how important creative therapies are going to be in making the future brighter for children and young people.”

The project will also create 11 new appointments within the universities involved, the NHS and community organisations – including a new research assistant post at the University of Salford.

Dr Joanna Omylinska-Thurston, Co-Investigator from the University of Salford, said: “There is a great need for new evidence-based approaches to mental health care and we know from the success of our Arts for the Blues project that psychological interventions that safely integrate the arts and creativity can make a huge difference. We now have the opportunity to build collaborations between the community and the NHS to provide effective new therapies for our young people that can have a real impact.”

Professor Nusrat Husain, Director of Research and Innovation at Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We know that 50 per cent of mental disorders begin before the age of 14 years old and unfortunately many children and young people do not have access to appropriate mental healthcare.

“Arts4Us, which is of huge public mental health importance, has the potential to change this because the intervention is engaging and builds on co-developed research with young people.”

Find out more about Arts4Us. If you are 24 or under, and have lived experience of mental health symptoms between nine and 13 years of age, you could help to shape the project as a YoungArts4Us panel member - email artswell@edgehill.ac.uk.

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