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A pioneering research centre focused on understanding and developing new ways of reducing anxiety and depression in young people will be established with funding of £10m from a major UK charity, 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.

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.

“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 dataset that gives Wales a distinct advantage in research in this area. It is a true privilege for the Wolfson Foundation to be involved.”

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.

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.

Welcoming the investment, 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.  

“For the first time we will be able to bring together experts in child and adolescent psychiatry, genetics, social science, and public health in Wales to shine a light on adolescent mental health and develop much needed new interventions.”

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

Professor Ann John from Swansea University said: “The Wolfson Centre promises a step-change in research efforts to understand and transform the lives of children and young people with anxiety and depression.

“Built on the truly multi-disciplinary research excellence and strong partnership in this field of two Welsh Universities, Cardiff and Swansea, it will become a global focal point for facilitating research and build momentum in the field to tackle historical issues that have led to treatment gaps, prevention gaps and  inequalities in the life trajectories of young people with anxiety and depression in Wales and beyond.”

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.

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