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Hello to the Wolfson Centre!

1 February 2021

The Wolfson Centre for Young People’s Mental Health opened its doors at the end of 2020.

This exciting new research centre is already beginning vital work in helping to better the mental health and well-being of children and young people.

As part of Children’s Mental Health Week, we wanted to offer an introduction to the new centre and our plans, which will hopefully improve the lives of many young people across Wales and the UK.

Who are we?

The first centre of its kind in Wales, the Wolfson Centre will join an already thriving division within the School of Medicine, sitting alongside other organisations like the National Centre for Mental Health (NCMH), the Neuroscience and Mental Health Research Institute (NMHRI), and the Brain Repair and Intracranial Neurotherapeutics (BRAIN).

The centre will bring together a multi-disciplinary team of psychologists, psychiatrists, social scientists, geneticists and population health experts.

Following a highly competitive UK-wide bidding process for a £10m grant from the Wolfson Foundation, Cardiff University’s bid beat 27 other UK universities.

The Wolfson Centre, led by co-directors Professor Frances Rice and Professor Stephan Collishaw, over the next five years will look to generate evidence that not only aims to improve outcomes for young people but also develop the most effective ways of tackling mental health problems.

The Centre will use a collaborative approach unique here in Wales that is internationally recognised.

It will bring together world-leading youth mental health research from Cardiff and Swansea University, as well as international academia, schools, the NHS, Welsh Government, the third sector and young people themselves.

Using the outstanding ecosystem we have for mental health in Wales will ensure we put the experiences and voices of young people at the heart of the Centre’s work.

Why children and young people?

The past year has been particularly challenging for everyone and the Wolfson Centre’s planned work could not be more timely.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on young people’s education, socialisation and development will undoubtedly have an impact on an entire generation’s emotional and mental well-being for years to come.

The strain of this unprecedented situation we are all living through will be felt by those most vulnerable, particularly for anyone with a mental health condition.

The most common problems for children and young people include depression, anxiety and ADHD and autism spectrum disorder (neurodiversity).

All these different mental health problems overlap (autism today, depression tomorrow) and are closely linked with each other.

Mental health and neurodevelopmental problems are distressing and can be costly to the young person affected, those around them and centralised government services.

These issues can impact young people’s education, employment prospects, their relationships with family and friends and can sadly lead to self-harm, drug misuse and untimely death.

Mental health problems in young people have increased in recent years and the latest evidence shows that young people’s mental health has been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19, particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Influencing policy and making change

The Wolfson Centre’s collaborative research efforts will serve to strengthen an already effective direct link with the Welsh Government and aim to bring about tangible change in policy to improve the lives of young people.

Co-director Professor Frances Rice said “We provide expert advice for Welsh Government informed by up-to-date knowledge of the best scientific evidence and practice internationally.

“Drawing on our all-Wales research infrastructure we can evaluate the impact of new policies on child mental health, related areas including health and education, and mental health inequalities in Wales.

“Robust evaluation informs what works well, for which children and in what circumstances. Our research helps inform policy, and vice versa.”

Current divisional links with the Welsh Government include:

  • Scientific advisory capacity for T4CYP (Together 4 Children and Young People) and the Joint Ministerial Task and Finish Group for the Whole School Mental Health Strategy.
  • Cross government investment and strategic planning in School Health Research Network for on-going national indicators report and to evaluate policy (e.g. Mental Health Strategy, Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015).
  • A new mental health policy post jointly funded by the Wolfson Centre and Welsh Government.

Opportunities and future ambitions

The Wolfson Centre offers important opportunities for expanding the research infrastructure in Wales.

For example, through expanding the School Health Research Network to include primary schools, Pupil Referral Units and special schools, as well as higher education.

Co-director Professor Stephan Collishaw added: “Our ambition is to utilise our international reputation in Wales through the flagship Wolfson Centre.
We will continue to develop effective early intervention to improve mental health and support for neurodiverse young people and address mental health inequalities in Wales.

“We intend to build and expand the workforce in child and adolescent mental health in the fields of education, health and research.

“An important priority is to attract and retain the best to live and work in Wales, a particular challenge given the COVID-19 pandemic. We look forward to seeing the Centre expand further in the coming months, ahead of a full formal launch in the autumn.”