Ola Demkowicz


Personal profile


My research focuses on adolescent mental health, with a particular focus on the contexts and mechanisms that contribute to the emergence of difficulties across adolescence, as well as the factors that may mitigate such vulnerabilities. Within this, I am especially interested in emotional distress and difficulties (i.e., low mood and anxiety) and in how systemic inequalities translate into mental health inequalities, as well as how youth spaces including schools can better align to adolescent needs. I have led and collaborated on research projects funded by organisations including the National Lottery Community Fund, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, the National Institute for Health and Care Research, and UK Research and Innovation.

I have been based at the Manchester Institute of Education (MIE) since 2016, and now teach predominantly on the BSc Educational Psychology. I have a professional background as an Early Years Practitioner, and I am a Chartered Psychologist registered with the British Psychological Society. I Co-Chair the Ethics Committee in the School of Environment, Education, and Development (SEED). I co-convene the MIE 'Education and Psychology' research group and the MIE special interest group 'Mental Health and Wellbeing in Education'. I am an Honorary Research Fellow at the Evidence Based Practice Unit (a collaboration between University College London and the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families).

Research interests

My research interests are generally centred around: 

  • Developmental psychopathology and the mechanisms involved in the development of mental health difficulties 
  • Emotional distress and difficulties (low mood and anxiety) 

  • Social connection and support in adolescence 

  • Systemic inequalities including in relation to gender and sexuality 

  • Resilience processes 
  • Children and young people's experiences of youth spaces and systems 

  • Policy and practice in school-based wellbeing provision 
  • Ethical and social considerations in research, particularly with children and young people  

Methodological knowledge

I am skilled in both qualitative and quantitative analysis, including advanced approaches such as structural equation modelling. I am a mixed methods researcher with a particular interest in how multiple methods can be blended to create a fuller understanding of mental health mechanisms. I am experienced in working with young people as active partners in research, including through co-production, and I have expertise in ethical and social procedures and responsibilities involved in engaging children and young people in sensitive research.

Further information

Research projects

Proud to #BeeWell: Understanding and supporting LGBTQIA+ young people's wellbeing. Principal Investigator, 2022-2023, funded by The University of Manchester Research Institute 

This is a co-produced project that aims to advance understanding of the causes and consequences of wellbeing inequalities among LGBTQIA+ young people across Greater Manchester, with a qualitative strand and a systematic literature review underway. More information will be available as the project progresses. 

Development and validation of the Social Media Measure for adolescents. Co-Investigator, 2022-2025, funded by UKRI and led by Dr. Margarita Panayiotou 

The Social Media Measure project is an open-science groundbreaking effort aiming to improve our understanding and measurement of adolescent social media use, and consequently, improve our understanding of how social media influences adolescent mental health and wellbeing. Using a co-production model, we will develop, with young people, a measure and smartphone app to assess adolescent experience of social media use. 

Evaluation of Passport to Success, Co-Investigator, 2022-2025, funded by the Kavli Trust and led by Prof. Neil Humphrey and Prof. Pamela Qualter 

The study is a major trial across Greater Manchester that investigates whether "Passport: Skills for Life", a mental health promotion programme used widely in primary schools, is successful at promoting children's ability to manage their emotions as a means to reduce distress, loneliness, and bullying during the transition between childhood to adolescence. 

INSIGHT: Young women's perspectives on psychological distress in their population and priority actions for responding: A co-produced qualitative investigation, Principal Investigator, 2022, funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research

This is a co-produced project funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research, aiming to explore young women's perspectives of psychological distress in their population, including causal contributors. There has been considerable emphasis on evidence of increased rates of low mood and anxiety among adolescent girls and young women, but to date there is no understanding of young women's perspectives on these issues. We are engaging with diverse young women across England through focus groups to explore their views, and engaging with stakeholders to discuss how this can be translated into future directions in research, policy, and practice. This is a collaboration between a range of organisations, including The University of Manchester, The Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, Common Room UK, Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, and Cardiff University, and we expect to share findings in late 2022. Information about the project can be found here and our open protocol and key documents can be viewed here.  

Evidence on the relationship between socio-economic disadvantage and the attainment gap in the English education system, Co-Investigator, 2021-2022, funded by the Education Endowment Foundation and led by Prof. Carlo Raffo 

This study is a cross-disciplinary partnership exploring the causes of the socio-economic gap in attainment among 3-18 year-old children in England.

HeadStart National Evaluation, Co-Investigator, 2016-2023, funded by the National Lottery Community Fund and led by Prof. Jessica Deighton, Evidence Based Practice Unit (a collaboration between the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families and University College London)

HeadStart is a six-year, £67.4 million National Lottery funded programme set up by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK. It aims to explore and test new ways to improve the mental health and wellbeing of young people aged 10 to 16 and prevent serious mental health issues from developing. The evaluation uses quantitative and qualitative strands to evaluate programme effectiveness as well as to longitudinally explore adolescent mental health and wellbeing trajectories and experiences. You can find out more about the project here

The TELL Study (Teenagers' Experiences of Life in Lockdown), Principal Investigator, 2020-2021, partially funded by The University of Manchester's Economic and Social Research Council Impact Acceleration 

The TELL Study is a research project that aims to understand 16- to 19-year-olds' experiences of the initial UK lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. The project places particular emphasis on this age group's wellbeing. We asked UK-based 16- to 19-year-olds to provide a written account of their lockdown experiences, sharing what lockdown looked like for them, what it felt like, and how they managed it. We are using the findings to share considerations on ways to support teenagers and their wellbeing during the pandemic, including creating a toolkit for educators working to support this age group. You can find out more about the project here

Children and young people's perceptions and experiences of social, emotional, and mental wellbeing in school, Co-Principal Investigator alongside Dr. Alexandra Hennessey, 2020-2021, funded by The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence

This research was commissioned by NICE (The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) to inform development of guidance for school-based wellbeing interventions and provision practices, with the aim of understanding what children and young people themselves consider good practice in this area. We engaged with children and young people in focus groups and asked them to tell us what they thought wellbeing provision ought to look like. Findings from our work with children and young people are available here and the linked NICE guidance can be found here. The project used creative methods to engage participants; we share our resources here and reflect on our experiences and offer recommendations for other researchers here. We are currently working on wider dissemination of key findings for academic audiences. 

Achievement for All effectiveness trial, led by Prof. Neil Humphrey and Prof. Garry Squires, 2016-2020, funded by the Education Endowment Foundation

This trial evaluated the effectiveness of Achievement for All, a whole-school improvement programme that aims to improve the academic and social outcomes of primary school pupils. The project was a randomised controlled trial, including surveys, observations, and interviews, with a focus on a select number of case study schools. The trial found that Achievement for All resulted in negative impacts on academic outcomes for pupils who received the programme in Years 5 and 6 and the project was given the Education Endowment Foundation's highest security rating. You can read about our findings here

SPECTRUM review, led by Dr. Michael Wigelsworth, 2016-2017, funded by the Education Endowment Foundation

SPECTRUM (Social, Psychological, Emotional, Concepts of self, and Resilience: Understanding and Measurement) was a systematic review of how non-academic and essential skills are conceptualised and measured in relation to child and adolescent outcomes. You can search the SPECTRUM database here


Other research

Current research students

Parise Carmichael-Murphy: "Understanding the social determinants of adolescent boys' mental health and wellbeing: An intersectional approach"; PhD in Education, 2019-2022, with Prof. Neil Humphrey

Devi Khanna: "Adolescent wellbeing processes policy in education"; PhD in Education, 2021-2024, with Prof. Neil Humphrey and Dr. Margarita Panayiotou

Megan Cutts: "Special educational needs and wellbeing in the school context"; PhD in Education, 2021-2025, with Prof. Neil Humphrey and Dr. Margarita Panayiotou

Yizhuo Lu: "Emotional regulation, peer victimization, and internalising symptoms"; PhD in Education, 2022-2025, with Dr. Margarita Panayiotou and Dr. Joao Santos

Suzanne Hamilton: "Emotional regulation, peer victimization, and internalising symptoms"; PhD in Education, 2022-2025, with Prof. Neil Humphrey and Prof. Pamela Qualter

Lauren Burke: "Loneliness and mental health in childhood and adolescence"; PhD in Education, 2022-2025, with Prof. Pamela Qualter and Prof. Jennifer Lau 

Carla Mason: "Investigating the factors that predict teacher's implementation of universal, school-based MH interventions"; PhD in Education, 2022-2025, with Prof. Neil Humphrey and Dr. Rosie Mansfield 

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Digital Futures
  • Policy@Manchester
  • Creative Manchester
  • Healthier Futures


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Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

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