University of the Sunshine Coast researcher Professor Daniel Hermens is looking to recruit 500 youths to participate in  brain studies.
University of the Sunshine Coast researcher Professor Daniel Hermens is looking to recruit 500 youths to participate in brain studies. John McCutcheon

500 young people needed for world-leading brain study

CYBERBULLYING, body image, wellbeing and suicidality are up for discussion in a world-leading, Sunshine-Coast-based study on adolescent brains.

University of the Sunshine Coast professor Daniel Hermens hopes to understand one of the "most intense and dynamic periods of brain change" to help create evidence-based youth mental health programs.

The Longitudinal Adolescent Brain Study (LABS) is recruiting 500 volunteers, aged 12, to be assessed four-monthly for five years at the Sunshine Coast Mind and Neuroscience - Thompson Institute.

Youth mental health and neurobiology professor Hermens said researchers would collect brain imaging, data on cognitive activity in the brain, information on participants social and emotional wellbeing and on the onset of any problems.

The study's youth steering committee member Charlotte Attwater, 14, will help suggest questions and approaches during the study.

She said young people faced huge amounts of pressure from school, sporting commitments, academic pursuits, peer groups, social media, parental expectations, career decisions, and other areas.

"If our brains are changing so much in these years and we are facing so many pressures, it's surprising that there hasn't really been a study quite like this before," she said.

"I really hope the information that comes out of this will help us more fully understand what is happening in our brains so we can build youth support programs that work."

Prof Hermens said before now, adolescence had been "largely overlooked" in studies such as his which use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to map the brain.

"By checking participants every four months, we will be in a position to detect more changes in the brain, data on their social and emotional wellbeing as well as more information about the onset of any problems," he said.

"We want to learn more about why some people develop a mental illness and others don't. At the end of this study, we hope to be in a situation where we can see if differences in their neurobiology can help us predict what might happen next."

Topics discussed will include resilience, wellbeing, psychological distress, cyberbullying, body image, nutrition, exercise, sleep, substance abuse and suicidality.

As a side project of LABS, non-identifiable data will be made available to schools as part of a Future Researchers program, which aims to engage young people in the science of the mental health of their own peer group.

For more information or to participate, call the LABS community liaison officer on 5456 3892.

PARTICIPANT ELIGIBILITY

  • 12 years of age and in first year of high school (entry age for LABS);
  • Proficient in spoken and written English;
  • Meet criteria to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI); and
  • Young people suffering from major medical illness, major neurological disorder, intellectual disability or who have sustained head injury (with loss of consciousness greater than 30 minutes) are unable to participate in the project.