Adolescence is an important, exciting and dynamic phase of life. During this time, the brain changes dramatically in structure and functioning and increases in efficiency. Young people entering adolescence also experience significant physical, social and emotional changes. Together, these changes make adolescents particularly vulnerable to mental health disorders.
The goal of the Longitudinal Adolescent Brain Study (LABS) is to determine and track changes in the brain during adolescence, to gain a deeper understanding of the factors that impact adolescent mental health.
Our researchers use brain imaging to look at brain structure, functioning (how the brain communicates) and brain chemistry. A range of neurocognitive activities will assess social, emotional and cognitive changes.
By tracking and mapping these changes, we gain greater understanding of how they relate to factors like:
- thinking skills
- the onset and progression of mental disorders
- the onset and progression of substance use disorders
Why study youth mental health?
More than half of all mental health problems are established before the age of 14. In Australia, one in four young people aged 15 to 19 meet the criteria for having a probable serious mental illness. However, 70 percent of children and adolescents who experience mental health problems have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age.
To better support young people, we need to better understand the adolescent brain. The results from the LABS project will help provide these answers, and will inform the development of evidence-based mental health programs to support young people and their families.
Our research methods
The LABS project is an ongoing longitudinal study that follows participants over a five-year period.
Participants commence when aged 12 to 15 years and continue with the study until they enter adulthood at 17 years old.
Because the adolescent brain grows and changes quickly, during this period we need to monitor and track changes as they happen. Our world-first research uses brain imaging every four months to pinpoint possible biomarkers that could indicate future structural brain change. Using the brain imaging, over five years the LABS project will build a world-leading database on the brain during adolescence. This research will support the development of evidence-based interventions for youth mental health.
We also aim to:
- engage young people and their communities
- provide feedback at an individual and group level
- generate discussion and awareness around mental health
- contribute to prevention and better early intervention treatments for young people suffering from mental illness
The data so far
We are constantly gathering data on youth mental health, and using it to update our dashboards and graphs here.