Aviva supports Cambridge University project to address depression in young people

Young man with head in hands
  • 75% of people with a mental health problem develop it before the age of 24
  • Treatments for depression in under-18s are effective in only 60% of cases
  • Depression arises from a complex set of factors

Aviva is supporting a project led by The Foundation for Young People’s Mental Health (YPMH) and researchers at Cambridge University exploring new methods of prevention, early intervention, diagnosis and treatment of depression in young people.

The first two years of the project have culminated in the release of the major report Changing Hearts, Changing Minds1 from YPMH in collaboration with the University of Cambridge’s Institute for Manufacturing (IfM) and IfM Engage.2

Around 322 million people globally suffer from depression and its prevalence is increasing, particularly among the young.3 Some 75% of people with a mental health problem develop it before the age of 24, and 50% develop it before the age of 14.4

Current treatments for depression in under-18s are effective in only 60% of cases. Between 50% and 75% experience a relapse, even after successful treatment.5

The report has joined up different areas of research into depression amongst young people and used IfM’s innovation methods to explore new approaches to prevention, early intervention, diagnosis and treatment of depression in young people.

Changing Hearts, Changing Minds also explains that depression is not “all in the mind” but arises from a complex set of factors across someone’s life, including:

  • Our body’s biological systems, in particular, our nervous, endocrine and immune systems; our gut health; our genes and how they are turned on or off.
  • Any underlying health conditions that we might have.
  • Our choices and actions regarding diet, exercise, sleep, and substance use.
  • Our economic, emotional, social, community and physical environments.
  • Psychological factors such as our perceptions of stress and the effectiveness of our coping strategies.
  • Adverse changes to the body during critical life stages from in utero to young adulthood.

Using these factors, the report identifies interventions that aim to prevent the development of first-episode depression, help people recover from depression or prevent the recurrence of depression.

The second phase of the project, funded by the Aviva foundation, will build on the findings of the Changing Hearts, Changing Minds report to further understand  how depression develops, particularly in young people aged up to 25, and identify what needs to be done to translate the ideas for interventions into practice.

The work will be conducted by Dr Olivia Remes with consultation from YPMH and collaborative workshops with key stakeholders across the mental health sector.

The next phase will focus on how the interventions can be applied in three key areas:

  1. Self-care by individuals and their families
  2. The healthcare system
  3. Wider mental health support e.g. from schools, employers and mental health support charities

The project has a strong alignment to Aviva’s purpose ‘With you today, for a better tomorrow’ by focusing on early intervention for individuals to improve their future health and wellbeing outcomes.

Dr Doug Wright, medical director of Aviva UK Health, said: “Members of Aviva’s clinical and innovation teams have participated in the project described in Changing Hearts, Changing Minds, which clearly identifies novel approaches to understanding and addressing depression as it develops in young people.

“Aviva is keen to see these exciting ideas translated into real solutions and healthcare policy to help those young people who are suffering, their families and carers. Aviva is supporting the follow-on project to help fast-track the development and adoption of the most promising ideas.”

Professor Peter Jones, professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge and chair of the project steering group, said: “More young people than ever are suffering from depression, but treatments have changed little in the last 30 years. This project has resulted in a better understanding of the complex pathways that connect an individual’s environment, diet, exercise, sleep, use of substances and underlying health conditions with their biological systems – and how all of these factors have a part to play in the development of depression.”

Peter Templeton, executive director of strategic development at IfM Engage and founder of YPMH, said: “I hope that this project will, indeed, change hearts and minds and lead to new approaches to the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of depression in young people, and that these new approaches will lead to improved mental health outcomes for young people and their families. I sincerely hope that this project will be the pebble at the top of a mountain that causes an avalanche of positive change.”


Media enquiries

Fiona Murphy

Protection, Health and Regulation

About the Aviva-Cambridge partnership

Aviva PLC has been a strategic partner of the University of Cambridge since 2018. Through the partnership, the two organisations collaborate on research, education and training with the shared aim of achieving positive societal impact.

About the Institute for Manufacturing (IfM)

Part of the University of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, the IfM is a dynamic body of researchers, educators, practitioners, professionals and technical experts contributing to world-leading research and education. With a focus on manufacturing industries, the IfM creates, develops and deploys new insights into management, technology and policy.

About the Foundation for Young People’s Mental Health

The William Templeton Foundation for Young People’s Mental Health (YPMH) is a charitable foundation working to improve the lives of young people by facilitating innovative approaches to resolve mental health conditions.

YPMH was established in memory of Will Templeton, by his parents Anne and Peter and his brother John. The family’s aspiration is to enable the ‘joining-up’ of excellent research and practice across the many fields associated with young people’s mental health to improve the prevention, identification, diagnosis and treatment of conditions such as depression and anxiety.

[1] https://www.ypmh.org/changing-hearts-changing-minds-september-2021/

[2] IfM Engage is a Cambridge University-owned company that applies IfM research to help companies, governments and academia around the world.

[3] Aviva/Cambridge partnership report

[4] Changing Hearts, Changing Minds

[5] Changing Hearts, Changing Minds

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