New data platform promises ‘step change’ in young people’s mental health research

Mental health research charity MQ has today announced a partnership with Swansea University to develop a major new young people’s mental health data platform.

The MQ Adolescent Data Platform for Mental Health Research, will be hosted at Swansea University Medical School’s SAIL Databank and will anonymously bring together a large range of existing and new information relating to the mental health of young people aged 10-24 from across the UK.  This will provide an unprecedented resource for researchers and policy-makers to improve understanding of mental illness in young people, address historical service challenges, and tackle inequalities in mental health.

In total, billions of pieces of data will be included ranging from administrative health, social and education data, to psychological and clinical data, as well as information from research studies and held within the privacy protecting SAIL Databank.

With funding of £800K for 2018-2020, Professor Ann John and her team of world-leading data scientists from the Farr Institute will spend the first year building the infrastructure, working with other researchers, securing data agreements, preparing and linking data. The team will begin preliminary data analysis on available data within the first 12 months – and will be working with other researchers across the UK to grow the size of the hub, nations covered, and breadth and depth of data during that period.

The platform, which will officially launch in 2018, addresses a significant gap in young people’s mental health research. The UK boasts a wealth of unique and rich data on mental health, including that of young people. Data that could fill the many gaps in our knowledge of mental health is being collected constantly – in hospitals, in GP surgeries, in schools. These details are, however, not being systematically brought together to drive improvements.

Following recent Government and industry reports calling for greater use of data in healthcare, this new project will be a UK hub for data-driven research and young people’s mental health policy internationally.

It will make it easier for researchers worldwide to use and learn from data, reducing the costs and time involved in mental health research and creating vast new potential insights.

Commenting, MQ Chief Executive Cynthia Joyce said: “This initiative promises a step-change in research efforts to understand and transform young people’s mental health. We hope to see the platform become a global focal point for young people’s research and we are confident it will create much-needed momentum in the field. It has the potential to help researchers uncover obstacles and facilitate leaps in understanding and intervention that have been lacking for decades.”

Professor of Public Health and Psychiatry at Swansea University and project lead, Ann John said: “The MQ Adolescent Data Platform will be an unparalleled resource bringing together world class scientists from across universities. Our aim is to transform research into children and young people’s mental health, making it easier and faster for scientists to deliver progress in tackling historical issues of under-treatment and under-recognition. As well as supporting policies to improve access and quality in young people’s services."