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Major grant awarded to improve the mental wellbeing of adolescents

5. Nov 2018

A research team at the University of Iceland School of Education has been awarded a grant of almost ISK 100 million from the European Union in order to develop an intervention programme to be used in compulsory schools. The goal is to promote mental wellbeing and resilience among young Icelanders. The name of this cross-European project is UPRIGHT. Leading the project in Iceland is Professor Anna Sigríður Ólafsdóttir of the Faculty of Health Promotion, Sports and Leisure Studies at the School of Education.  The Directorate of Health and six compulsory schools will also be involved. 

"The main aim of this cross-European project is to promote the mental wellbeing of teenagers by improving their resilience and ability to handle the challenges of adolescence, which is a time of dramatic changes," says Anna Sigríður. 

Anna Sigríður and others involved in the project say that there are clear signs of increasing stress levels in Icelandic society which have a significant impact on children and teenagers.  It is therefore imperative to find an intervention for young people that provides them with self-control and social skills. It is important for young people to know their own values, strengths and also limits. 

"There are signs of anxiety and poor wellbeing in schools," says Dóra Guðrún Guðmundsdóttir, a psychologist and head of determinants of health and wellbeing at the Directorate of Health who will be participating in the project on behalf of the Directorate. "We believe it is necessary to introduce research-based tools in schools that will make children better equipped to handle the challenges of contemporary society." 

Anna Sigríður says that the UPRIGHT project offers exactly such tools.  "The project is intended to promote the mental wellbeing of everyone in the school community, in which the key figures are teachers and other school staff, as well as parents." 

Anna Sigríður says that UPRIGHT is focused on developing a programme for children aged 12 to 14 and their teachers and families which will boost self-confidence as well as socio-emotional skills, for example through mindfulness techniques. The project will involve three schools which will pilot the programme and three control schools in the Reykjavík area. 

"This is a major project, conducted simultaneously in five European countries, and funded by the European Union as part of Horizon 2020, the EU framework programme for research and innovation.  The University of Iceland will receive just under ISK 100 million, but the project as a whole received a four-year grant of around half a billion ISK," says Anna Sigriður. 

Other members of the Icelandic research team are Ingibjörg Vala Kaldalóns, lecturer in positive psychology, Bryndís Jóna Jónsdóttir, adjunct lecturer and mindfulness teacher, Alda Ingibergsdóttir, psychologist and PhD student, Hrefna Pálsdóttir, public health expert and PhD student, and Unnur Björk Arnfjörð, public health expert and PhD student, all of whom work at the University of Iceland School of Education. Sólveig Karlsdóttir of the Directorate of Health is also involved. 

Anna Sigríður says that she hopes for a positive reaction from parents, since UPRIGHT focuses on incredibly important issues regarding the welfare of young people and society as a whole. Active engagement in the six schools will be key to assessing the value of the project.

The research team