Spotlight on... Jessica Deighton



This week, the spotlight shines on Jessica, Director of the Evidence Based Practice Unit and Professor in Child Mental Health and Wellbeing, and her current work with the Department of Education. We also discover that her first job was rooted in the body rather than the mind.

What is your role and what does it involve?

I am Director of the Evidence Based Practice Unit, which is a collaboration between UCL and the Anna Freud Centre. The Unit carries out applied research around the topic of child mental health and wellbeing with four key themes:

Risk  involves understanding the range of contexts and circumstances that put a child or young person at elevated risk for mental health problems or poor outcomes in the context of experiencing mental health problems.

Resilience  explores the range of contexts and circumstances that enable some children and young people to thrive despite experiencing difficult circumstances.

Change  examines how to best understand and measure change in children’s mental health and wellbeing over time and what influences change.

Choice  encapsulates two areas. First, how we can empower children, young people and parents and carers to be actively involved in their mental health and mental health care. Second, involving children, young people and parents and carers in choosing what we mean by evidence by involving them in the creation of knowledge.

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

I started at UCL as a Lecturer in 2015. Before that I was solely based at the Anna Freud Centre as Head of Resilience, Research and Evaluation. 

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

I’m extremely proud of We’ve been working on the learning strand of this programme since 2016 and we have had had the chance to produce some really exciting research during this period. Not only have we been able to involve over 60,000 children and young people in the research but we have also been lucky to be able to work closely with those delivering the intervention side of the programme and young people from each of the participating areas to ensure the findings feel relevant, accessible and practical for those outside academia. As a result we’ve been able to demonstrate how the research has helped inform changes in practice on the ground, somethings that was reflected in the REF case study and podcast ’Where research transforms children’s mental health’ focused on this work.

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list?

We are in the middle of two large scale RCTs testing school-based interventions to support mental health funded by the Department for Education. They involve hundreds of schools across the country and we are currently recruiting for the last wave of the research so we are working really hard on engaging with those schools and making sure they have everything they need. The programme will make such an important contribution to the evidence base around prevention/early intervention for mental health so I’m really looking forward to when we can share the findings.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

That’s a tough question!

Album: Led Zeppelin IV (I used to raid my parents’ vinyl collection)

Film: Truly, Madly, Deeply

Novel: The Stone Book Quartet by Alan Garner

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

Not so much a joke but more a silly haiku:

To express oneself

in seventeen syllables

is very diffic...

                        John Cooper Clarke

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

Michael Rutter, Lemn Sissay, Judith Kerr, Noam Chomsky, Michelle Obama and Billy Connelly

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t give up the drum lessons - you’ll regret it.

What would it surprise people to know about you?

My first job at 16 was doing hair wraps, braids and occasionally dreadlocks in a little shop in my local town. I shared the upstairs space with a tattoo artist, a body piercer and a tarot reader. We had some interesting chats over lunch!

What is your favourite place?

I love trail running so my favourite places tend to be out in the countryside up on a hill somewhere where I can see far into the distance. Beeston Castle in Cheshire is one of my favourites, I used to go there a lot as a child and it still resonates.



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