Global Mental Health Databank launches study to understand the mental health of young people

Young people around the world commonly experience anxiety and depression, but it can be hard to identify how each person can best manage their own mental health.

The Global Mental Health Databank, a feasibility study officially launching today, hopes to change that by enabling youth from the United Kingdom, South Africa, and India to work directly with mental health researchers to better understand how young people can manage their mental health.

Sage Bionetworks is leading an international group of researchers from Oxford University, University of Cambridge, University of Washington, Walter Sisulu University, Higher Health, and the Centre for Mental Health Law & Policy at the Indian Law Society in this effort to shift how a mental health databank could be developed and structured.

This project is funded by the mental health area team at the Wellcome Trust as a key infrastructure necessary to enable their work to identify the next generation of treatments and approaches to prevent, intervene, manage and stop relapse of anxiety and depression in young people.

This project will work directly with youth and researchers to build the blueprint for a global mental health program that directly collects data and provides insights to youth around the world. We will test how youth wish to interact with and use this system to advance their understanding of mental health.

"We are excited to create a system that supports both youth and researchers in understanding mental health management strategies," said Dr. Lara Mangravite, president of Sage Bionetworks. "We think it's essential to start by developing a system that empowers young people to directly guide how their data is collected, shared and used."

Relying on mobile phones and other connected technologies, the study will collect data from youth participants about their lived experience with mental health self-management.

Collecting such data, which requires a strong partnership between youth and researchers, will provide insight into how a person's daily activities and surroundings affect their health and the success of their health-management strategies. For example, can change in sleep habits, social interactions or financial security help mitigate anxiety?

"We look forward to rich learning as to how to balance the best ways to ensure those banking their data have maximal control and privacy, with the wish to allow diverse scientists to have ready access to data to advance understanding of the active ingredients that help address youth anxiety and depression globally," said Professor Miranda Wolpert, MBE Head of the Mental Health Priority Area at Wellcome.

Leveraging existing technologies and expertise, Sage will also be testing the ability to operate a program of this nature at scale with the varied data privacy regulations of participating countries.

"India has the world's largest population of adolescents and young people. Therefore, it is important that India is a part of such global initiatives to solve global problems affecting all of humanity, especially young people in low- and middle-income countries," said Dr. Soumitra Pathare, Director, Centre for Mental Health Law & Policy, ILS, Pune, India. "We hope that Indian researchers will also find this project of value in helping them solve these mental health problems in the India context."

"This work provides an extraordinary opportunity to engage culturally and contextually diverse groups of young people and researchers on critical questions for youth mental health. This is fundamental to strengthening the science of global mental health and ensuring that the solutions are informed by specific needs," said Dr. Pamela Collins, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, professor of global health, and director of the UW Global Mental Health Program.

The team from the University of Washington will bring their deep experience in working with people coping with mental health challenges and how connected technologies can help assess mental health.

Nearly every young person in the world has access to connected technologies and these technologies provide a window into their social, physical and emotional lives. By banking this data, we hope to provide the opportunity to discover which strategies do and do not help them manage their mental health."

Dr. Patricia Arean, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Washington School of Medicine

The project envisions the databank as a platform that connects participants and researchers interested in studying the effects of contextual determinants, experiences, behaviors, and interventions in a real-world setting. To be successful, this platform must be technically feasible, beneficial to both data contributors and researchers, and it must operate under parameters that promote data justice.

"Data analysis should be the bedrock on which policy and practice rest, and it is therefore essential that we as researchers engage in dialogue with young people about how their data could support population mental health and ensure that their concerns about privacy and confidentiality are enshrined in governance procedures," said Tamsin Ford, Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge and Honorary Consultant at Cambridge and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust.

"While this is still at early stages, we hope that this work will ultimately help to practically change lives globally," said Dr. Melvyn Freeman, of Higher Health. "I am personally hopeful, and quietly confident, that this databank will become the cog around which research into depression and anxiety in young people will turn in the future, and hence make a big difference to youth well-being."

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