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Improving mental health from Bristol to Santiago

Press release issued: 24 September 2008

Psychiatrists at the University of Bristol are taking an ambitious programme of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) into schools from Bristol to Santiago, Chile in a bid to improve the mental health of teenagers.

CBT has been shown to prevent young people from developing mental health problems by giving them skills which help promote positive thinking, coping and problem solving.

The Santiago project, which has secured £550,000 funding from the Wellcome Trust, is the first school-based trial to improve the mental health of teenagers in Latin America.  The study will involve 20 schools and approximately 2,000 low-income pupils across the city of Santiago.  Pupils will attend 14 sessions based on the adaptation of cognitive-behavioural models used successfully in Western countries.

Professor Ricardo Araya of Bristol University’s Academic Unit of Psychiatry who is leading the project said: “Depression is common and can have devastating effects on the lives of adolescents.  Psychological interventions are the first-line for treating or preventing depression among young people. This study aims to improve their mental health by helping them develop a robust approach to the challenges of life.“

The UK project, led by Professor Paul Stallard at the University of Bath, has been awarded £1.25 million by the NHS to carry out research on 13-16-year-olds from schools in Bath, Bristol, Nottingham, Swindon and Wiltshire.  The study, part of the NHS Health Technology Assessment Programme (HTA), involves Professor Araya, Professor Glyn Lewis and Dr Alan Montgomery from Bristol University along with colleagues at the Universities of Bath and Nottingham and the Peninsula Medical School.

Professor Glyn Lewis said: “This programme will teach pupils, as part of their lessons in Personal Social & Health Education (PSHE), how to acknowledge their personal strengths, identify negative thought processes and develop problem solving skills.  It will be delivered in 10 weekly classroom sessions and its effects will then be compared with current PSHE lessons.”

Bristol University is establishing itself as a major centre in the field of mental health school interventions in the UK and abroad.  The Santiago study involves several University researchers including Dr Alan Montgomery from the Department of Community Based Medicine, and Professor David Gunnell,  Dr Sian Noble and Dr Judi Kidger from the Department of Social Medicine.

International collaboration in the field of mental health interventions is also rapidly growing.  In addition to the trial in Chile, Professor Araya and Professor Tim Peters are co-applicants in a Wellcome Trust-funded trial to improve the mental health of women with unexplained medical symptoms in war afflicted parts of Lebanon.  Professor Araya is also collaborating in the largest effectiveness trial for the treatment of common mental disorders ever undertaken in the developing world. This trial is led by Professor V Patel in Goa, India and is funded by the Wellcome Trust.

Bristol’s Academic Unit of Psychiatry is hosting several senior Brazilian researchers.  At present, there are two visiting Professors from Sao Paulo University: Dr Paulo Meneses and Dr Marcia Scafuzca.  Another senior researcher from Recife University, Dr Ana Ludemir, will join the Unit in Summer 2008.

Professor Araya is also collaborating with researchers from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in an occupational cohort study and a primary care trial in the city of Petropolis. 

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