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MRC/AHRC/ESRC Adolescence, Mental Health and the Developing Mind: COVID-19 rapid knowledge mobilisation

Please note this opportunity is now CLOSED.
View all OPEN opportunities

  • Status: Closed
  • Open date: 18 May 2020
  • Closing date: 1 Jun 2020 12:00 GMT+1
  • Type: Grants, Researcher-led


The Adolescence, Mental Health and the Developing Mind programme are inviting proposals to support rapid knowledge mobilisation of current needs in adolescent wellbeing and mental health in light of the impact of COVID-19.

This is expected to result in the development of a portfolio of multimedia resources that will address the current challenges and concerns adolescents are experiencing in response to COVID-19, create practical advice and promote evidence-based strategies that meet the needs of young people during, and after, the pandemic, and that can be used to provide advice and recommendations to policy makers and professionals involved in supporting young people.

It is expected that one award of up to 18 months in length will be made under this call and up to £200k UKRI contribution is available.

The call is a two stage application process; Stage 1 is an initial submission of a CV by interested applicants before the 1 June 2020, Stage 2 is an invitation to successful applicants to submit a proposal by 25 June 2020.

This call for funding will be jointly delivered by the Medical Research Council, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council under the Adolescence, Mental Health and the Developing Mind programme, funded through UKRI’s Strategic Priorities Fund.


Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world for adolescents has changed profoundly. While many adults face similar challenges, this is arguably a particular challenge for adolescents:

  • Many adolescents have recently experienced profound disruption to their social networks at a time when peer and non-family relationships play a key role in helping young people negotiate both social and academic challenges. For an extended period they have not been able to see their friends, leave their home (other than to exercise), engage in team sports, or attend school/college/university. By contrast adults have longstanding friendships, work colleagues, and extended family connections and a more distributed and established set of social supports.
  • The adolescent period is traditionally characterized as a time when young people undertake a process of individuation, typically involving patterns of challenge and differentiation with respect to their parents and wider family. Being confined at home with family members who (no matter how well intentioned) may not understand or empathise with their preoccupations or needs may increase (or have increased) the risk of stress, conflict and in some cases alienation.
  • The nature of adolescence is that it is a crucial period of transition into adulthood, with uniquely time-sensitive challenges and milestones, in particular exams and moving to new schools or colleges. For many, these milestones have been disrupted creating anxiety and uncertainty. Related to this, there are fears that the lockdown may exacerbate inequalities in education and achievement. 
  • There are particular subgroups among adolescents who are likely to be particularly vulnerable, including those in care, exposed to substance misuse, domestic violence or child maltreatment, and those with pre-existing mental health vulnerabilities.

In sum, both the immediate and enduring societal consequences of COVID-19 may exacerbate mental health vulnerability for adolescents and compromise their wellbeing to a greater degree than for adults. Even in ordinary circumstances, adolescence is a period of particular vulnerability. It is a crucial time when it comes to mental health. We know that three quarters of mental health problems emerge before the age of 24, with overall rates of mental health problems in this group continuing to rise. There is therefore a compelling need for evidence-based resources that meet the needs of, and are accessible to, this age group.

Remit and scope

Advice has proliferated online and in the media as to how to manage / deal with the impact of COVID-19, including isolation and self-care. However, this advice has come from a variety of sources, only some of which has been based on sound scientific principles. The format of the advice has typically not been tailored to meet the needs of an adolescent audience and has often comprised lists of strategies or suggestions written for adults. In part because of lockdown restrictions, the use of video or other media have been limited.

This call invites proposals to utilise the existing knowledge and research base to address the mental health needs of adolescents and young people (up to the age of 24). That is, draw from the extant literature on wellbeing promotion, mental health prevention and intervention to inform a creative and accessible set of resources / messaging to address current needs and vulnerabilities in this group. Outputs must be:

  • Able to address the actual needs and concerns of young people, rather than what adults imagine these concerns to be. This requires the portfolio contents to be informed by evidence, that may include empirical (qualitative or quantitative) data. For example, priorities for the focus of the portfolio could leverage survey data currently being collected in response to COVID-19 by a number of groups in the UK and elsewhere. Substantive new data collection or surveys is not the primary focus of this call; such a component will only be eligible where a clear case can be made that the evidence is not available through existing routes or collaboration, and where it forms a minority component of the proposal. In addition, outputs may also be informed through a process of knowledge synthesis drawing on potentially transferrable knowledge from previous contexts (e.g. disaster response etc).
  • Evidence-based. Outputs should be based on established empirical findings in relation to wellbeing promotion, and mental health prevention and intervention with a particular focus where possible on research with adolescent / young adult populations.
  • Accessible and engaging for an adolescent / young adult audience. This will require a focus on creating material that can be effectively disseminated. Particular consideration should be given (for example) to dissemination via social media platforms (including short video / visually based materials) as well as via school-based settings.
  • Trustworthy. Adolescents are traditionally not enthusiastic about engaging with mental health services and offers of help from well-meaning adults and professionals. There is a need for resources to be co-produced by other adolescents and/or figures adolescents trust and respect.

Proposals are invited to describe how a resource portfolio will be developed in line with the needs above. All proposals will be expected to include the following:

  • How the focus of the portfolio will be informed by evidence. This may include knowledge synthesis, collaboration with groups already conducting COVID-19 surveys or, in well justified instances, the development of a survey component within the proposal; this should form only a minor component of any proposal. Proposals should indicate the research literature that will underpin the portfolio outputs.
  • Co-production with adolescents / young adults: Co-production will help ensure that resources are accessible, have the correct tone, and demonstrate meaningful collaboration.
  • Collaboration with the voluntary sector: This will leverage specific expertise in engaging / supporting adolescents in the production of high quality translational mental health resources.
  • A national dissemination plan with timely deliverables: Proposals must outline a convincing dissemination and communication strategy (e.g. through partnership, network activation etc). Staggered outputs must be built into delivery plans to ensure responsiveness to the changing need/environment.
  • Consideration of diversity and inequalities within the audience/groups that will be targeted, including the needs of any particular subgroup (e.g. children in care).
  • An interdisciplinary approach that embraces the contributions from expertise across the funder’s remits.

For the purpose of this call, adolescence is being defined broadly as between 10 and 24 years of age.

It is important to note that proposals may address general adolescent population needs, OR a proposal may wish to focus on the specific needs of one or more vulnerable groups within the adolescent population. Proposals are encouraged to consider how the outputs generated could also include materials for parents, carers, teachers, health workers and/or policy/decision makers.

Studies will be expected to primarily build on existing relationships, including with relevant practice or policy partners and relevant data/resource holders.

Collection of new data should be a minority component of the award and should be discussed and agreed with the Director prior to submission of the proposal. Any data produced as a result of this funding will need to be shared in line with the Joint statement on sharing research data and findings relevant to the novel coronavirus (nCoV) outbreak.


Proposals of up to 18 months in length are invited. All proposals will need to be able to show how progress within the period of award will ensure timely deliverables. This will need to include staggered outputs built into delivery plans, for example at 3-month intervals, to ensure responsiveness to the changing need / environment.


Standard MRC eligibility criteria apply for Principal Investigators and academic Co-Investigators. The Principal Investigator(s) must be an eligible UK-based applicant from a Je-S registered institution eligible to receive UKRI funding.

This call does not form part of the UKRI COVID-19 rolling call or the UKRI/DHSC COVID-19 rapid response call. Therefore, it does not qualify as the one application that Principal Investigators may have submitted and under review to those calls at any one time. However applicants, whether as Principal or Co-Investigator, may not submit the same or similar application to the UKRI rolling call or UKRI/DHSC rapid response call.

Non-academic partners (non-industry)

It is possible to include non-academic partners, such as policy makers, local and national government, third sector and voluntary organisations, practitioners, lived experience researchers etc. as Co-Investigators. Where justified, the time of these partners will be funded at 100% of fEC. This excludes users from industry as they will be regarded as project partners and cannot claim costs from the grant. 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% fEC of the grant application.

Funding available

The overall funding available for the call is up to £200k UKRI contribution. We expect one award to be made.

Applicants should provide costs of the proposal as set out in the application form. In Section 1.4 please provide the total request against each category, and provide a breakdown for 80% fEC and 100% costs in parentheses in the same field; the overall (top line) total request should be the sum of staff costs, travel, consumables and other directly incurred costs, and indirect, directly allocated and estates costs. A brief description of the resources required, including estimated costs, in the different contributing environments and confidence in access to these will need to be provided in Section 4.2. 

How to apply

Stage 1

Interested applicants must first submit a CV (max 3 pages, Arial 11 point) that demonstrates their expertise against the track record expectations below. This should be submitted to adolescentmentalhealth@mrc.ukri.org by 12pm 1 June 2020.

Applicant CV’s will be rapidly reviewed and those that score highest against the criteria below will be invited to submit a full proposal. Applicants will be informed of the decision by 4 June 2020. This step is to manage demand and ensure an appropriate success rate.

Full proposals will not be accepted from applicants who have not completed this step or who have not been subsequently invited to submit a proposal. Proposals from applicants other than those invited to submit following assessment at Stage 1 will be rejected without review.

Track record expectations for the Principal Investigator:

  • Experience of multidisciplinary work in the field of mental health
  • Expertise in, and experience of, providing support to adolescents and young people through direct help or provision of evidence-based resources (e.g. within a clinic, community setting or school) with the aim of promoting wellbeing or addressing mental health needs. While this includes clinically qualified individuals and those with a social work background, it does not preclude those with relevant experience who do not hold an applied professional qualification
  • Expertise in relation to adolescence as a developmental stage. That is, demonstrable evidence of expertise in wellbeing / mental health in adolescence as opposed to childhood or adulthood.
  • Track record of successfully delivering translational outputs aimed at non-scientific / non-professional audiences (i.e. not simply research outputs)
  • Track record of producing mental health materials through co-production, ideally with adolescents and young people. 

Stage 2

Applicants successful at stage 1 and invited to submit a proposal will be asked to complete the application form (DOCX 28KB).

Applicants will additionally be expected to discuss their ideas early on with the Director of the Adolescence, Mental Health and the Developing Mind programme (Prof Eamon McCrory) to ensure as much as possible that their proposal aligns with the overall objectives of this call. These discussions will be arranged by the office.

All proposals must utilise the provided form and be accompanied by:

  • The regulatory requirements annex that forms part of the application form.
  • A CV for the Principal Investigator and any Co-Investigators. Each CV to provide relevant key outputs, activities and grants and other relevant information indicating their suitability to lead/support the research as described in the application (no more than 3xA4 page per CV using Arial 11 point. These can be inserted into the form as a pdf).
  • An optional document of supporting figures, GANTT chart and/or data tables (no more than 1xA4 page). If this is included, applications must be collated into a single pdf in the following order - Form plus Annex, Document of supporting figures, GANTT chart and/or data tables

Email your single PDF to adolescentmentalhealth@mrc.ukri.org by 4pm 25 June 2020.

Proposals should:

  • describe the approach to be taken and put it in the context of the national response to COVID-19. International collaboration is permitted, so long as the research is of relevance to the UK
  • explain the level of urgency, and why the activity is important now
  • demonstrate that the proposal has the necessary critical mass to make a difference. Where relevant, demonstrate the strength of links to relevant knowledge users/decision makers.
  • demonstrate a clear route to impact within the timescale of the project and how that impact may be evaluated within the lifetime of the award and beyond.
  • give an estimate of the resources required (within 10%)
  • name the team that will run this and describe their ability and capacity to deliver.
  • provide evidence that the host institution supports the proposal and that the research can be carried out under present institutional restriction.

Information relating to proposals may be shared, on a confidential basis, across UKRI councils, and with other organisations to support the national and international coordination of research to combat COVID-19 and to seek funding contributions from third parties.

Start Date

Proposals must be timely, with rapid activation, to enable early and valuable outcomes to be established. As such, grants are expected to start within four weeks of award notification.

Getting approval from your host institution

You need approval to confirm that the work is achievable under whatever constraints are currently in place in your department/university, and that they are content for you to focus on this work under 80%fEC funding. The approval can be from whoever has authority to give such assurance whether that is your department head, university research office or pro-VCs office.

Please note that we would like to see evidence that work could begin within four weeks of confirmation of funding.

Evaluation process

Proposals will be reviewed by members of the Research and Stakeholder Advisory Board (RSAB) for the Adolescence, Mental Health and the Developing Mind programme, as well as by young people with lived experience. Additional reviewers may be sought if necessary. RSAB members, in combination with young people, will make recommendations on outcomes to UKRI. Note that the Director will observe and support the process but will not be a formal member of the assessment and review panel.

Applicants will not have an opportunity to respond to Panel comments in instances where feedback is provided, except where clarifications and/or changes are required as part of the award process.

Key assessment criteria for the submissions will include:

  • Applicant track record, skills, knowledge and experience:
    • Experience of multidisciplinary work in the field of mental health, including successful collaboration with other disciplines.
    • Expertise in, and experience of, providing support to adolescents and young people through direct help or provision of evidence-based resources (e.g. within a clinic, community setting or school) with the aim of promoting wellbeing or addressing mental health needs. While this includes clinically qualified individuals and those with a social work background, it does not preclude those with relevant experience who do not hold an applied professional qualification
    • Developmental expertise in relation to adolescence, including in relation to specific sub-groups. That is, demonstrable evidence of expertise in wellbeing / mental health in adolescence as opposed to childhood or adulthood.
    • Track record of delivering translational outputs, drawing from the research literature, aimed at non-scientific / non-professional audiences (i.e. not simply producing research outputs)
    • Track record of producing mental health materials through co-production. 
  • Fit of proposal to call scope (see details above). In brief, the proposal should:
    • Be informed by evidence
    • Involve co-production with adolescents / young adults
    • Demonstrate collaboration with the voluntary sector
    • Include a national dissemination plan with timely deliverables:
    • Consider diversity and inequalities
    • Adopt an interdisciplinary approach
  • The potential for the proposal to have an impact the within the period of the award and to provide a unique value-adding contribution relative to existing activity.
  • Access to required resources
  • Partnership: including strength and clarity of collaborations and opportunities provided
  • Design and feasibility of project plan
  • Value for money

We aim to provide a decision within 4 weeks of submission.

The decisions of the Panel will not be open to appeal and the funders reserve the right to amend the application process.

Ethics and governance

The funders do not require ethics permissions and regulatory approvals to be in place when an application is submitted. If an application is successful, it is the responsibility of the host institution to ensure that the appropriate ethics approval(s) has been obtained and that no research requiring such approval is initiated before it has been granted.

Contacts and guidance

For general and scientific queries relating to the call, including queries relating to the administrative process of applying, please contact adolescentmentalhealth@mrc.ukri.org

Other information

The information collected throughout the application and assessment process will be used to support the peer review process and inform our funding decisions, for the management and monitoring of awards, and the evaluation of the funding programme.

Proposal information is treated confidentially and in line with our privacy notice, UKRI fEC Grants Terms and Conditions and our guidance on the Use of Grant Proposal and Training Grant Information. Information relating to proposals may be shared, on a confidential basis, across DHSC and UKRI councils, and with other organisations to support the national and international coordination of research to combat COVID-19 and to seek funding contributions from third parties.


For general enquiries, please contact adolescentmentalhealth@mrc.ukri.org

For specific queries the relevant contacts are:

Karen Brakspear – Head of Programme for Mental Health, MRC 


Wendy Matcham – Senior Research Portfolio Manager, Health and Human Behaviour, ESRC 


Margaret Charleroy – Head of Health and Environmental Humanities, AHRC