Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge and several universities in Europe are to assess the effectiveness of interactive online resources that provide young people with information and an opportunity to discuss concerns.
Anglia Ruskin will work with 300 randomly selected English 15-year-olds to assess the success of the internet-based programme, which targets 14- to 24-year-olds.
Tim Waller, professor of child and family studies and acting director of Anglia Ruskin’s Childhood and Youth Research Institute, said the research could make a difference to the lives of thousands of young people across Europe.
“There is still an enormous stigma attached to mental health issues, but if we are able to improve the way information and advice is shared, then hopefully this stigma can be eroded,” he said.
“We aim to improve mental health promotion to both support those young people in distress and help reduce the number of young people suffering from mental health problems in future.
“Currently there is a real problem with people leaving school and being unable to find work, and the under-24s are disproportionately affected. There is evidence that Neet (not in employment, education or training) youngsters are more prone to suicide.”
Fieldwork on the project will run until June 2013. It will use a randomised controlled trial to investigate whether young people that use the website show a decrease in depression, anxiety, stress and suicidal thoughts, compared with a control group, which receives only a leaflet.
It will also examine the benefits of two different strategies for promoting the website – through young people themselves and through health professionals.
In the UK, more than 600 young people die as a result of suicide each year, with three times more young men than young women taking their own lives.
Statistics from the charity YoungMinds show that 6.2 per cent of 16- to 24-year-olds have attempted suicide in their lifetime.