An interdisciplinary research team will analyse the role that epigenetics and language play within the framework of indicated prevention in mental health among students aged 12 to 18 years

20/01/2020.- An interdisciplinary team, led by the University of Jaén (UJA), has launched the DAREMOS project, which seeks to improve the detection of adolescents at high risk for emotional problems.

The project is headed by Dr Luis Joaquín García, Professor of Psychology at the UJA and Principal Investigator of the Network for the PROmotion of mental health and EMotional well-being in Adolescents (Red PROEMA). Joining him on the research team are Dr Lourdes Espinosa and Dr José Antonio Muela, both from the UJA’s Department of Psychology; Dr María Belén Díez, from the Department of English Philology at the UJA; and Dr Juan Miguel Gómez (PI2), who heads the Common Framework for Supporting Genomics Research at the Biomedical Research Institute of Malaga (IBIMA) / Andalusian Public Foundation for Health and Biomedicine Research in Malaga (FIMABIS). Another project participant is YOTTA, the UJA spin-off which specialises in therapeutic software for language-based cognitive disorders.

As Dr Luis Joaquín García explains, “currently, emotional problems are the most underdetected and undertreated problems. Furthermore, adolescence is an especially vulnerable period for developing mental health issues, given that 50% of mental health problems appear before the age of 14, as stated by the WHO”. These epidemiological data point to 110 million young people experiencing problems (anxiety and depression) worldwide. In Spain alone, it is estimated that close to half a million adolescents suffer emotional problems, which represents almost 50% of all mental disorders. He adds: “Despite these worrying statistics, mood disorders are the least identified mental health problems among the youth population”.

The DAREMOS project forms part of the PROEMA network’s action plan, which promotes the slogan “there is no future without emotionally healthy adolescents” through its research endeavours. It also highlights the need to conduct screening/early detection protocols and evidence-based initiatives. “Without detection there is no way for adolescents to access evidence-based interventions”, argues Dr Luis Joaquín García. For this reason, the World Health Organization has in place an agreement on the urgent need to invest in mental health prevention strategies, which includes indicated prevention, the framework under which the DAREMOS project was granted, explains Dr Luis Joaquín García.

This two-year-long project will follow a set schedule. In the first two months, the project will be presented to schools. Data will then be collected from the student sample (adolescents aged 12 to 18 years), which is programmed to last until the end of June. This will be followed by data analysis. Lastly, a guide will be drawn up replicating the entire procedure and the data will be shared with the scientific community and with the parents/legal guardians who participated in the project.

The study will consider not only psychosocial aspects but also the role that the adolescents’ language plays, thanks to the work carried out within the field of Applied Linguistics, IT and Epigenetics. What is more, the age of the participants as well as gender-based and minority inequalities (sexual, religious, ethnic) will be considered, given that girls and minority groups are found to experience greater emotional problems. The team will receive support from and partner with the Spanish Association for Mutual Assistance against Social Phobia and Anxiety Disorders (AMTAES) and the Confederation of Psychopedagogy and Counseling Organizations in Spain (COPOE) as an external advisory board, seeking to involve society and hear from the users and the school community.

The DAREMOS project, whose full title is ‘Detection of Adolescents at High Risk for Emotional Problems: Exploring the role of Epigenetics and Language for Indicated Prevention in Mental Health’, is funded by the ERDF-Andalusia programme.

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