Simple momentary thoughts of loneliness, disappointment, and stress can so quickly spiral and develop into more complex and longer-lasting thought patterns. Putting a stop to the build-up of these depressive and negative outlooks will be increasingly important, especially for young people, in any mental ill-health preventative programme.

Demand for mental health services has increased enormously over the last decade with NHS figures showing a 48% increase over the previous three years for people under the age of 18. This increase in demand has understandably put mental health services under pressure, with many young people waiting months to get a CAHMS appointment.

Providing a part of the answer to that problem, a new series of online animated films, aimed at 17-24-year-olds, intends to combine an accessible message with a research-based preventive mental health strategy. Led by Professor Paul Crawford at the Institute of Mental Health, the University of Nottingham, and in conjunction with multi-award-winning studio Aardman.

Leading academics join forces with Aardman to tackle the mental health crisis

What’s Up With everyone? is a series of short, animated films that use storytelling to unpack situations that cause negative emotions and transform them into something that is bearable and is all too human. For example, in one of the movies, the character's bad grades cause him to think that he is rubbish, but the message turns around his feelings of failure and perfectionism into something human and optimistic, with the final message being 'not everyone is perfect, and that is ok'.

Neil Pymer, Creative Director at Aardman, said: “Mental wellbeing amongst young people is vital, especially in these challenging times. The films we’ve created aim to help identify early behaviours that might act as a catalyst to deeper issues and ways young people can self-help or look for further support if they need it.”

“What really sets this project apart is that it's been co-created with young people at every step; their input has been invaluable in crafting a unique, genuine voice. We’re delighted to be working with some incredible charities and organisations to bring this campaign to life. We hope it can make a difference.”

As well as the films, the information on the site links up to further information and signposting to assist young people in helping themselves to develop better mindsets when moments of stress, anxiety, or depression come.

For the future, this is not the end of the project, as the researchers behind the production of the site intend to further their understanding of the response of the audience to the films and information, through a survey to be published later this year, to help create better mental health materials for a younger audience.

Prof Paul Crawford said: "The research behind, within and about this project was fundamental to the successful creation of these new films and the website to support the mental health of young people. With Covid-19, there will be no red carpet, but there is a deep pride that all those involved in this project have been part of a bit of magic amidst the difficult times we are all facing. Anyone who has worked with Aardman or seen their work will know that their reach to the audience is profound, so the potential impact trajectory for the project is jaw-dropping.”