INVEST: Intervening in Mental Health Issues Already Before Birth


The Finnish welfare system is a success story enjoying global admiration. However, there is one central deficit in the current welfare system: it does not sufficiently help families with accumulated disadvantages. The goal of the INVEST project’s researchers is to build a Welfare State 2.0 in which disadvantages are tackled with targeted interventions.

Mental health disorders often develop at a young age. At the population level, half of the mental health disorders of adulthood occur already before puberty.

– Research findings do not indicate that child and adolescent mental health disorders have increased. However, the problems have polarised in such a way that some adolescents have even more problems than before or the problems are harder to treat, explains Professor of Child Psychiatry Andre Sourander.

Sourander leads the Research Centre for Child Psychiatry at the University of Turku and directs Voimaperheet and APEX intervention projects that are part of the INVEST consortium. Both projects focus on improving child and adolescent mental health.

– It has been repeatedly demonstrated in research on children’s mental health that disruptive behaviour in childhood is linked to social issues and mental health problems in adulthood, such as low level of education, substance addiction and early mortality. Traditionally in Finland, the emphasis has been on corrective actions, but it is more efficient to get to the root of the problem and try to prevent new problems from emerging, says Professor Sourander.

In the Voimaperheet programme, children’s disruptive behaviour is approached by offering the parents means to develop their parenting skills and control their child’s problems.

– When children have difficulties, the parents easily scold or punish them, which leads to a negative cycle. The digital material for the Voimaperheet programme combined with telephone coaching has brought tremendous results. Our impact studies have shown that the programme improves the participants’ parenting skills, which in turn decreased the children’s problems and increased their ability to function, enthuses Sourander.

In the APEX consortium, the model from the Voimaperheet programme has been expanded. The objective of the APEX programme is to improve the population’s mental health skills and intervene in mental health problems before they become serious and difficult to treat.

– In addition to children’s disruptive behaviour, we concentrate on treating pre- and postnatal depression and anxiety in school-age children, among other things. We want to support the well-being of children and adolescents all the way from the womb to early adulthood, says Sourander.

Sourander has great expectations for the INVEST flagship.

– We already have intervention programmes that are scientifically proven to be effective but with the funding from INVEST we can demonstrate that they are genuinely cost-effective solutions at the population level. We have high aspirations and want to make the University of Turku into an international pioneer in digital health care services.

Led by Professor of Sociology Jani Erola, the INVEST research consortium received great news at the beginning of the year 2019. The Academy of Finland selected the research consortium INVEST by the University of Turku and National Institute for Health and Welfare THL into its flagship programme with a funding of €8.25 million for four years.


Text: Heikki Kettunen
Photo: Hanna Oksanen
Translation: Lotta Junnila

Created 17.09.2019 | Updated 02.12.2019