Multi-million dollar research project to target adolescent mental health

4 December 2018

University of Queensland researchers have partnered with institutes in Kenya, Indonesia and Vietnam to investigate the prevalence of mental disorders in adolescents.

School of Public Health Research Fellow Dr Holly Erskine said the multi-million dollar project would determine the prevalence of mental disorders in adolescents and identify factors that influenced a young person’s risk of poor mental health.

“It will involve nation-wide surveys, and will be the first project of its kind to focus on mental disorders in 10-17 year olds in these countries,” she said.

“This research is essential in order to address the mental health needs of adolescents in low- and middle-income countries.”

Dr Erskine said Africa and South-East Asia had some of the youngest populations across the globe.

“UNICEF estimates that Africa will be home to 38 percent of all people under 18 by 2050, and that is expected to rise to 50 percent by 2100 if current trends continue,” she said.

“Despite this, we really don’t know a great deal about the prevalence of mental disorders in regions such as Africa or South-East Asia.

“The results from these surveys will help us plan and prioritise services more effectively and determine where funding should be distributed.”

Dr Erskine said the surveys would include measures of risk factors – such as bullying – and protective factors – such as education, particularly of female adolescents.

“Identifying risk and protective factors helps determine how we can reduce the prevalence of, or even prevent, mental disorders,” she said.

“We also intend to measure parental mental health, as we know this impacts on the emotional and physical wellbeing of adolescents.

“The main goal of the project is to provide countries and global health organisations with the information they need to improve the lives of adolescents.”

The UQ members of the research team include Project Director Professor Harvey Whiteford, child and adolescent psychiatrist Associate Professor James Scott and Research Officer Meaghan Enright.

The project has received financial support in the form of a gift from Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company created by Melinda Gates, in partnership with The University of Queensland in America.

It will be conducted in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University, USA; the African Population and Health Research Center, Kenya; Gadjah Mada University, Indonesia; and the Institute for Sociology at the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences.

Media: Faculty of Medicine Media,, +61 7 3365 5133.