Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Advancing adolescent mental health and wellbeing research

Apply for funding to help improve research in the field of ‘adolescence, mental health and the developing mind’. You will build capability through methodological innovation.

You can be researcher at any career stage who is:

  • within the remit of AHRC, ESRC or MRC
  • based in the UK
  • from a UK research organisation eligible for UKRI funding.

Your project must focus on research with adolescents and young people. You could:

  • improve existing research methods, concepts, tools or measures
  • identify innovative new approaches.

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £1.25 million. We will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Projects can last between 12 and 36 months.

Who can apply

The ‘Building Capability through Methodological Innovation: Advancing the Field of Adolescent Mental Health Research’ funding opportunity is open to applicants from eligible UK-based organisations in accordance with standard UKRI eligibility rules.

Individuals may be the principal investigator on only one application. However, individuals can act as co-investigator on any number of applications.

Applications from early and mid-career researchers are encouraged.

MRC guidance on institutional and individual eligibility.

MRC is administering this opportunity on behalf of MRC, AHRC and ESRC. Therefore, proposals do not need to fall within the remit of MRC. We encourage applications from eligible researchers at all stages of career and particularly welcome applications from arts and humanities researchers.

The opportunity is open to public sector research establishments (PSREs).

If PSREs wishing to apply have not previously applied for UKRI funding and are not currently designated independent research organisation status, they will be required to complete an eligibility form. This is to ensure they have the required research capacity, systems and controls in place to manage the research and grant funding.

Check if you and your institution are eligible for research and innovation funding.

Applications may be single or multi-institutional.

International co-investigators are eligible for inclusion where they provide expertise that is not available in the UK. Please contact us to confirm eligibility prior to submission.

Non-academic partners (non-industry)

It is possible to include non-academic partners as co-investigators, such as:

  • policymakers
  • local and national government
  • third sector and voluntary organisations
  • practitioners
  • lived experience researchers.

Users from industry cannot be co-investigators.

What we're looking for

MRC, AHRC and ESRC invite proposals for ‘Building Capability through Methodological Innovation: Advancing the Field of Adolescent Mental Health Research’. This opportunity will support research to strengthen the methodological and conceptual foundations that underpin research into:

  • adolescence
  • mental health
  • the developing mind.

Scope and remit

This opportunity will support projects that help researchers in delivering more relevant, valid, reproducible, mechanistically informed, multi-level and translationally scalable research in adolescent mental health over the next decade.

Outputs from these projects may also allow new research questions to be investigated.

Proposals should:

  • address a clear area of unmet need with regard to existing research methods, concepts, tools or measures
  • identify innovative new approaches for conducting mental health and wellbeing research with adolescents.

They should present a coherent project that clearly sets out how the outputs and outcomes of the project will contribute to the goal of benefiting the wider mental health research field.

Projects should be designed to create generalisable learning that accelerates progress in or improves the quality of research in adolescent mental health and wellbeing.

Applicants should demonstrate early engagement with a broad range of end-users as appropriate for the developed method, tool or resource and a clear and realistic pathway to impact. The dissemination plan for the outputs should be developed to maximise implementation, adoption and sustainable impact.

Research outputs should also be widely and freely accessible as soon as possible, in line with the UKRI open access policy.

A range of disciplinary contributions are sought, across:

  • psychology
  • arts and humanities
  • social sciences
  • data sciences
  • medicine
  • biology.

This opportunity aims to support a portfolio of projects across the remits of the funding partners. Adaptation of methods from other fields of research and non-traditional disciplines to mental health are also welcomed.

A multidisciplinary approach is expected where able to add value and enhance the potential impact of the project by facilitating the transfer of ideas along with greater awareness and uptake of new approaches and applications.

It is recognised however, that there may be cases where it is not appropriate or feasible to incorporate a multidisciplinary approach. In both cases, the adopted approach should be clearly justified in the application.

Applications supported through this opportunity are expected to focus on the foundations that underpin research into understanding mental health and the developing mind of young people aged between 10 and 24:

  • methods
  • concepts
  • tools
  • measures
  • approaches.

While broader benefits and impacts on the field of mental health and wellbeing may be generated from the funded proposals, it should be clear that the primary driving force is accelerating progress in the field of adolescent mental health and wellbeing research.

Priority areas

Proposals are welcomed across the full remit of the opportunity. However, we particularly encourage research that addresses key methodology needs across one or more of the following interrelated priority areas.

These have been identified as key strategic gaps through a scoping community workshop and the recent call for research programmes.

Measurement and data

Innovation that:

  • improves existing, or develops novel approaches to, quantitative and qualitative measurement and analysis of adolescent mental health and wellbeing data
  • enhances our ability to draw mechanistic insights
  • contributes to advances in stratified or person-centred clinical approaches.

This includes:

  • tools, measures or approaches (including passive data collection) to meaningfully capture variation in environmental experience, track it over time and capitalise on the new and emerging data generated, in relevant domains including:
    • home
    • school
    • community
    • social and online or digital environments
    • intervention data capture
  • tools, measures or approaches (including passive data collection) to meaningfully capture variation in psychological constructs or subjective experience, track it over time and capitalise on the new and emerging data generated
  • methods to capture the unique biological and physiological changes in young people and integrate these with their psychological, social or environmental experience to generate mechanistic insight
  • methods to capture and understand the origins and experience of loneliness
  • improved approaches to measurement for constructs particularly relevant to adolescence such as gender, sexuality and race
  • development and optimisation of experimental tasks or paradigms to measure individual, group or population differences in psychological constructs thought to underpin mental health, wellbeing, social or relational functioning
  • extrapolation and calibration of methods validated in children and adults to adolescents
  • development and optimisation of data analytic methods to provide new mechanistic insight into adolescent mental health and wellbeing.

Conceptual innovation

The multidisciplinary nature of the field of adolescent mental health and wellbeing results in a range of ways to define and formulate:

  • ideas
  • concepts
  • constructs.

Improved theoretical frameworks and constructs that are adaptable to cross-disciplinary research are needed to facilitate collaboration and are key for validity and reliability. This includes:

  • defining and formulating key constructs and concepts relevant to adolescent development (for example, but not limited to, trauma, resilience, loneliness, trust and agency) within a framework that integrates across disciplines, addressing issues of:
    • terminology
    • ontology
    • conceptual integration
    • research operationalisation
  • advancing understanding of how mental health, recovery, self-care and wellbeing, and their associated outcomes, are defined by both young people themselves, as well as the people around them and how these relate to professional perspectives.

Engagement and partnership

Methods of meaningful and productive engagement with young people, and collaborating with them and other partners, to advance the ability of the field to better address existing and new research questions and deliver impact. This includes (for example):

  • ways in which to effectively engage and involve individuals (including adolescents themselves), communities and other relevant stakeholders (such as charities) to build partnerships and foster better research
  • involving a more diverse range of young people in research to identify priorities, advise on study design and as participants (particularly those of greatest need, from low resource and under-researched backgrounds, such as:
    • ethnic minority group
    • LGBTQ+
    • those in care or prison
    • those experiencing loneliness or social isolation
  • advancing current methods, approaches and tools so that they more accurately and sensitively represent adolescent experience and environments
  • methods to improve data collection, implementation of research and interventions in community and school settings and help align research priorities with community expectations
  • identifying potential barriers to participating in research and maintaining engagement in longitudinal data collection (including anxiety around collection of biological and psychological measures) and how these might be ameliorated. This might also relate to practical challenges arising from governance frameworks (such as GDPR).

The areas described above are not exhaustive or exclusive and projects that cut across one or more priority areas and disciplines are especially welcome.

Collaborations and partnerships

Patient and public involvement and engagement

Research is expected to proactively collaborate and engage with a range of stakeholders, and in particular adolescents themselves, including those with lived experience of mental health problems and their families or carers.

Inclusion of those members of society under-represented in research activities, or most in need of mental health research, would be encouraged.

Stakeholder impact

Evidence for unmet need should be clear. Proposals should articulate the potential for real-world impact from the research, both in the short and long-term, including which researchers or end-users will be engaged in the development, testing, dissemination and implementation of the study.

Outputs may support and be used by key stakeholders other than researchers, and those that will benefit from them should be clear.

All proposals must consider the approaches and resources required for outreach and dissemination with clear benefit for the wider research community.

Collaborative working within the initiative

The research funded through this opportunity will be expected to work cooperatively with the UKRI programme director and other grant holders funded under the ‘Adolescence, Mental Health and the Developing Mind’ initiative wherever possible. This is to ensure national join up of interests and capability and to deliver added value from the collective investments.

Applicants do not need any links to other projects or programmes funded under this initiative prior to applying. However, applicants are encouraged to explore opportunities for strategic alignment where they exist.

We will not fund

The following is not within scope:

  • research that does not have clear benefit in terms of enhancing the capability of the wider field of researchers in adolescent mental health and developing mind field
  • research that is not clearly positioned in the context of adolescence as a stage in the life course
  • research that does not have clear relevance to a methodological challenge in the field of mental health, wellbeing or the developing mind
  • technology innovation without an associated methodological advancement
  • establishment of new large-scale longitudinal research cohorts or new sweeps of existing cohorts which will require follow-on funding to maintain the resource and realise its benefits (the use of existing rich sources of longitudinal cohort or household panel data is encouraged)
  • applications for funding to support only networking activities
  • studentships or individual career development support, for example fellowships.

While international collaborations are welcomed, these should be in the service of improving adolescent wellbeing and mental health in the UK. That is, research supported through this scheme should not be of primary benefit (mainly or only) outside of the UK.

Funding available

£8 million is available to support proposals under this opportunity. Applications may request funding for 12 to 36 months and between £100,000 and £1,000,000 UKRI contribution per proposal.

Proposals to this opportunity may vary in scale, ambition and stage of development and we encourage a diverse range of applications across the funding envelope. We therefore invite:

  • developed proposals
  • pilot studies
  • exploratory work
  • proof-of-concept studies.

We will aim to support a portfolio of research across the full scope of the initiative, in terms of research areas, disciplinary contributions and potential impacts.

In light of this, and recognising the critical value of smaller-scale awards to the overall portfolio, we intend to reserve up to £2.5 million of the total budget to support high quality proposals requesting £100,000 to 300,000 UKRI contribution.

Awards will have a fixed start date of 1st November 2022. Funding will be awarded at 80% full economic cost(unless otherwise stated) and can be requested to cover:

  • the time of the leadership team
  • research activities, for example:
    • research staff
    • consumables
    • costs of running the award including project management and administrative support
  • knowledge mobilisation, dissemination and engagement activities with key stakeholders.
  • supporting appropriate ‘public and patient involvement and engagement’ (PPI&E).

Read a full account of grant costs in the MRC guidance for applicants.

Any costs eligible to be requested at 100% full economic cost should be added as an ‘other directly incurred costs’ new item, selecting the check box to indicate the cost is an exception. Multiple new (separate), ‘other directly incurred cost’ items can be added for each item.

Non-academic co-investigators

It is possible to include non-academic partners as co-investigators. See the ‘who can apply’ section for more information about eligibility.

Where justified, the time of these partners will be funded at 100% full economic cost.

Salary costs for new staff to be recruited for the proposed work can be submitted as part of the application.

Travel and subsistence costs and overheads will be allowable if appropriately justified.

We recognise that some partners may be employed by a government-funded organisation. Applicants must therefore avoid the double counting of public funds in costings.

The combined costs for non-academic co-investigators must not exceed 30% of the total 100% full economic cost of the grant application.

We welcome collaboration with industry, which should be managed via an MRC industry collaboration agreement.

Additional funding conditions

We would like to work with successful applicants to share learning from all projects funded through this opportunity. Grant holders will be expected to participate in wider activities coordinated by the funders under this initiative.

How to apply

Intention to submit

Please submit an intention to submit form by 16:00 1 December 2021.

Complete the intention to submit form.

This is mandatory. Proposals will not be accepted from applicants who have failed to submit an intention to submit.

The form includes the request for:

  • the names of:
    • the principal investigator
    • potential co-investigators
    • any collaborating organisations confirmed at this stage
  • the anticipated range of funding request to UKRI (£100,000 to 300,000 or £300,000 to £1 million)
  • a brief summary of the proposed project including its clear positioning in the context of intended benefits to adolescence, mental health and wellbeing research.

This is to help us prepare for peer review and manage conflicts at the panel assessment stage. It will not involve any expert assessment.

Full proposals

The full proposal should be submitted through the Joint Electronic Submissions system (Je-S) by the host research organisation by 16:00 (UK time) on 20 January 2022.

The proposal should follow standard MRC application guidelines.

Creating your Je-S application

All investigators (principal investigator, co-investigators and research co-investigators) are required to have a verified research proposal type Je-S account.

If you are a new Je-S user, to start the create account process and gain access to the Je-S system, accept the terms and conditions (Je-S).

Principal investigators are advised to contact all co-investigator and research co-investigators at the earliest opportunity, to ensure they have created the required ‘research proposal’ type Je-S account (allowing them to be included in the Je-S form as co-investigator).

Co-investigators and research co-investigators without the required type of Je-S account will not be able to be included within the proposal.

You should give your administrative department sufficient notice that you intend to apply. Your organisation must submit your application before 16:00 on the deadline date.

When applying select:

  • council: MRC
  • document type: standard proposal
  • scheme: research grant
  • call/type/mode: Adolescent Mental Health SPF Methodology Call Jan 2022.

Guidance completing the Je-S form

Please see the MRC guidance for applicants for general guidance when creating the attachments required for your proposal.

The case for support forms the main body of your proposal and should follow the standard MRC case for support content and specifically include:

  • evidence of the unmet need being addressed
  • positioning of the proposal in the wider research landscape and existing activities
  • how the aims and objectives meet the remit for the opportunity
  • how the applicant, or applicant team, is well qualified to conduct the work (this should include justification of the mix of skills and disciplines and how this is appropriate to the aims and objectives)
  • how a broad range of end users for the developed methods, concepts, tools, measures and approaches have been adequately engaged
  • how young people (and other related stakeholders as relevant) will be involved in delivery of the proposed project
  • how the methodology and associated learning will be disseminated to maximise implementation and adoption
  • how the project outputs will improve best practice in the field
  • the pathway to both implementation and sustainable impact and how barriers to this will be overcome.

Additional attachment

In addition to the standard attachments as described in the MRC guidance for applicants, we are also requesting a mandatory additional attachment which will be provided to our young person reviewers (‘supporting data’ attachment type).

This attachment should be no more than two sides A4 and should describe the proposal, its potential for impact and approach to engagement in terms that are accessible by young people. Specifically, this should include:

  • how you know your proposal addresses an important unmet need for adolescent mental health research
  • if awarded, what impact and potential benefits this project might have on adolescents, including those living with mental ill health, in the short and long-term
  • a clear description of how young people will be meaningfully involved in the project if awarded and a justification of how this approach and level of engagement is appropriate to the work proposed and its intended outputs
  • a glossary of any common technical terms or phrases and acronyms used within the wider proposal.

How we will assess your application

All eligible proposals that are in scope of the funding opportunity will be reviewed and assessed by a specially convened independent, multidisciplinary expert panel.

This panel will be made up of national and international experts from across the fields of:

  • medicine
  • biology
  • psychology
  • social sciences
  • arts and humanities.

It will also include representation from key stakeholders (policymakers, health, social care and education sectors) and young people.

A triage panel will consider all applications approximately one to two months before the full panel meeting. Applications not declined by the triage panel will have two weeks to respond to feedback and comments from the external written peer reviews and where relevant from the triage panel.

The scope of the initiative is broad, covers a range of important areas, and aims to support high-quality research across the portfolio. As such, potential for portfolio balance will be taken into account at the triage stage and at the point of funding decisions.

We aim to communicate funding recommendations within one week of the full panel meeting.

Assessment criteria

Applications will be assessed on:

  • the degree to which the research outputs are of enduring benefit in building the capability of the wider research community in adolescent mental health and wellbeing
  • how the research fits into the wider landscape of the field of adolescent mental health and wellbeing research and how it helps overcome key gaps or barriers
  • the quality of proposed research:
    • importance of the overall challenge or unmet need
    • clear aims and objectives and coherence as a package of work
    • appropriateness and feasibility of the proposed approach
    • skills and disciplines involved are appropriate to the aims and objectives
    • dissemination of outputs
  • project management, risk mitigation, decision-making approaches, community consultation and inclusion of stakeholders
  • value for money and potential for impact.

Contact details

Ask a question about the opportunity

Email: adolescentmentalhealth@mrc.ukri.org

Get help with Je-S

Any queries regarding the submission of proposals through Je-S should be directed to the Je-S helpdesk.

Email: jeshelp@je-s.ukri.org

Telephone: 01793 444164

Opening times: Je-S opening times

Additional info

Background

Mental health research, including that focused on adolescence, cuts across many disciplines. Innovative tools and approaches are needed to improve and extend the capabilities of researchers, if we want to:

  • deliver innovative and transformational research with translational impact
  • ensure that policy and practice are built on the best possible evidence base.

This opportunity is part of a £35 million funding initiative in ‘adolescence, mental health and the developing mind’ by UKRI. The initiative being jointly delivered by:

  • MRC
  • AHRC
  • ESRC.

The overarching aim of this initiative is to:

  • deliver ambitious interdisciplinary research advances
  • generate evidence that underpins approaches for improving adolescent wellbeing, educational attainment, sense of identity and social functioning as
  • be able to prevent, address or reduce mental health problems.

Seven flagship research programmes, 11 engagement awards and two COVID-19 knowledge mobilisation awards have previously been funded under the Adolescence, Mental Health and the Developing Mind initiative.

This £8 million research acceleration and innovation opportunity aims to benefit the wider adolescent mental health research community by supporting the generation of new and improved:

  • research methods
  • concepts
  • tools
  • measures
  • approaches.

Webinars

The funders will be holding two webinars for applicants to provide information and guidance on this opportunity, as well as an opportunity for questions and answers. We would encourage all potential applicants to attend one of the sessions.

We expect the webinars to last no longer than one hour.

The webinars will take place on:

  • Thursday 28 October, 14:00 to 15:00
  • Wednesday 3 November, 10:30 to 11:30.

Register for the webinar on 28 October.

Register for the webinar on 3 November.

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