Major trial to investigate solutions to mental health crisis among young people about to commence recruitment

9 February 2023
A major trial led by researchers at the University of York, funded by the NIHR and hosted by Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, which will look at whether junior mental health practitioners can deliver low-cost interventions to tackle the mental health crisis affecting children and adolescents, will commence recruitment shortly. 

Fast-tracking training for junior clinicians – such as psychology graduates and newly qualified nurses – so that they can provide treatments, may help the NHS to meet demand during the current surge in conditions such as depression and anxiety among young people. 

If shown to be successful, bringing recent graduates into the workforce in this way could cut waiting lists and conserve scarce NHS resources, the researchers say. 

Professor of child and adolescent psychiatry, Bernadka Dubicka, from Hull York Medical School at the University of York, said: "The mental health crisis among young people was worrying before covid, and since the pandemic, rates have rocketed. With plenty of evidence linking poverty with poor mental health in children, the looming cost of living crisis will only exacerbate the situation. 

"Vast increases in demand for mental health services are putting enormous pressure on the NHS at a time when there are staff shortages across the board, from psychiatrists to specialist mental health nurses and psychologists. This trial is about trying to find a way to tackle the crisis, by upskilling this new workforce." 

It takes a minimum of 13 years for a psychiatrist to fully train and one in twelve NHS psychiatry posts are currently vacant nationally.  

As well as testing whether interventions delivered by relatively junior staff can be effective, researchers will seek the views of young people on the benefits of online vs in-person therapies. 

The trial – which will be carried out over four years in close collaboration with the universities of Cambridge, Nottingham and Manchester, as well as Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust, Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust and Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust – will recruit more than 500 participants across England, making it the largest of its kind to date. 

Professor Dubicka, who is also Consultant Psychiatrist at Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust and honorary Manchester Academic Health Science Centre Professor at the University of Manchester, added: "Whatever the outcome of this trial, it is a really good opportunity to hear the voices of young people at the sharp edge of the mental health crisis. 

"Unfortunately we currently have many young people, facing severe struggles with mental health, on waiting lists. We feel passionately about tackling this situation because with the correct interventions at the right time, young people can often recover from their mental health difficulties rather than being affected by them into their adult lives. 

"We recognise that there is not one single cause of poor mental health. Environmental and socioeconomic factors, trauma and abuse, physical health, access to green spaces and worries about education, work and the environment all have a deep impact, among many other factors. Our intervention aims to support depressed young people in developing confidence to connect with others and increase activities that are important to them, which we hope will help with their recovery." 

The trial is supported by NIHR Health Technologies Assessment and carried out with York Medical Trials Unit. 

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