Studies suggest that one in five children will experience incapacitating anxiety or depression. If it goes untreated, they are at risk of developing other problems including drug dependence and educational underachievement in young adulthood.
A team from the University’s Department for Health, in collaboration with Bath & North East Somerset (BANES) Primary Care Trust, Peninsula Medical School and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, have been given the funding from the National Institute of Health Research to help children at schools in the BANES and Wiltshire areas.
The project, called FRIENDS, involves trained psychologists leading classes that will teach young people the skills needed to cope with anxiety and depression. If it is successful it could be rolled out to all schools nationally.
Professor Paul Stallard from the Department of Health, who is leading the project, said: "Anxiety is a fear of the future and the unknown which causes children to worry about what will happen and how they will cope. For some, these become overwhelming constant worries and the child can end up thinking the worst, expecting things to go wrong or predicting that they will be unable to cope with any changes or challenges that occur. When they think like this they become anxious and these feelings are unpleasant and so they try to reduce them by avoiding the things that they worry about.
"The FRIENDS project helps by teaching children to identify their anxious feelings and how to control them. By learning to spot these feelings they can challenge them and learn alternative, helpful ways of thinking. They are finally helped to face their worries and learn that they can cope."
Improving the emotional health of children is an important public health issue which has become a major tenet of Governmental policy.
Whilst effective psychological treatments are available for children with mental health disorders few children receive these.
The results of this project will provide evidence about the effectiveness of school-based approaches to the prevention of mental health problems and the most effective way of delivering them. If successful the intervention could be integrated within the school curriculum and be widely used across the country to improve the emotional health of children.
The project was funded by the National Institute for Health Research Public Health Research (NIHR PHR) programme.