Exploring the evidence of associations between physiological and psychological stress in the context of youth mental health

An introduction to this Emerging Minds funded project by the lead researchers Dr Ola Demkowicz (University of Manchester) and Dr Hannah Jones (University of Bristol)


Stress is conceptualised as a critical mechanism in much developmental psychopathology theory on the emergence of mental health difficulties in adolescence. This includes theory relating to the emergence of difficulties in general, as well as for explaining inequalities in youth mental health. 

Youth mental health prevention and intervention approaches very often feature efforts to boost coping skills as a means of better equipping children and young people to manage stress in their lives. However, there is very little robust empirical evidence regarding the specific role that stress plays as a causal mechanism in youth mental health. 

Furthermore, stress is a multifaceted construct including both physiological and psychological components, and a good deal of work exploring stress and mental health often relies on measurement of just one of these.


We (Ola and Hannah) met recently through the Emerging Minds Grow Programme, where we discovered a shared interest in understanding the role that stress may play in the development of mental health difficulties, and a mutual frustration at navigating a patchy evidence base in this area. We come at this issue from different angles – Ola with an interest in psychological stress, and Hannah with an interest in physiological stress – but were interested to find that many of the issues we observed seemed similar across both.


As such, our aim in this project is to collate and evaluate the quality of existing research to assess current understandings of whether dysfunctional stress response plays a causal role in poor mental health in young people, and whether there is an interplay between physiological and psychological components of the stress response system in youth mental health. 

We hope that exploring the evidence here will help us better understand gaps in the literature and consider how we might set up further collaboration to contribute to narrowing these gaps to support our understanding of stress-related aetiology for youth mental health.


As well as identifying ways we can collaborate moving forward to advance knowledge and understanding, we hope to share what we learn in blogs and network meetings so that others can consider ways to move the evidence forward here too! 

Keep an eye out for our reflections on the evidence, or let us know if you are part of a platform that would be interested in us sharing what we learn.