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University of Exeter Medical School

Dr Abby (Abigail) Russell

Dr Abby (Abigail) Russell

Senior Lecturer in Child and Adolescent Mental Health and NIHR Advanced Fellow

 01392 72 2985

 South Cloisters 2.05a


South Cloisters, University of Exeter, St Luke's Campus, Heavitree Road, Exeter, EX1 2LU, UK


Abby is a Senior Lecturer in Child and Adolescent Mental Health based within the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Research Collaboration (ChYMe), that sits within the Department of Public Health and Sports Sciences, in the Medical School.

Abby's research focuses on the causes and consequences of child and adolescent mental health difficulties, and the role that schools play in preventing, identifying and managing mental health difficulties. 

Abby is currently conducting a programme of research that aims to explore and ameliorate the impact of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in schools. She is carrying out a 5 year NIHR Advanced Fellowship, developing and conducting initial evaluation of a school-based intervention for young people with impairing traits related to ADHD. Abby is working with children, parents and schools to co-design a toolkit of evidence-based behavioural strategies with extensive patient and public involvement. She plans to extend this approach to developing evidence-based public health interventions to other mental health problems, such as strategies to help school staff manage young people who self-harm. 

Abby also collaborates on a variety of projects centering on child and adolescent mental health. ADHD and neurodevelopmental conditions, self-harm and suicide, and dimensional measures of mental health have been the main focus of her work thus far. She has expertise in a variety of research methods, including epidemiology (social and genetic), trials and intervention development and evaluation, as well as qualitative research and evidence synthesis. Abby completed her postdoctoral training with Dr Becky Mars at the University of Bristol, exploring biological mechanisms linking early adversity and adolescent self-harm, and exploring the genetic epidemiology of self-harm and suicide using big data. Her PhD explored the association between parental socioeconomic disadvantage and ADHD in children and young people.

Prior to her research career, Abby has worked in learning disability support services, child and adolescent mental health services, and at a school for children with special educational needs.


PhD Medical Studies

BSc (Hons) Biological Sciences (Psychology)

Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice


Senior Lecturer in Child and Adolescent Mental Health                                                    2021-current 

University of Exeter Medical Schoool, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

Lecturer in Child and Adolescent Mental Health                                                                 2020-2021

University of Exeter College of Medicine and Health

Senior Research Associate in Epidemiology                                                                       2018-2020

University of Bristol Medical School

Postdoctoral Research Fellow: secondary data analysis 

University of Exeter Medical School                                                                                          2018-2018

Postdoctoral Research Associate: Child Mental Health Group                                                     

University of Exeter                                                                                                                    2017-2018

Postdoctoral Research Associate: Shared decision making in mild to moderate dementia

University of Exeter Medical School                                                                                           2017-2017

Postdoctoral Research Associate: Self-harm and suicide in schools project

University of Exeter Medical School                                                                                           2016-2016

Associate Research Fellow: Collaborative Care for Depression randomised controlled trial                     

University of Exeter Medical School                                                                                           2012-2013

Associate Research Fellow: Fathers in Focus study                                                               2012-2012

Mood disorders centre, Psychology, University of Exeter

Teaching Assistant at Summit School, Canada                                                                       2010-2012 

Honorary Assistant Psychologist at CAMHS, Edinburgh                                                       2009-2010 

Support worker for ENABLE Scotland                                                                                      2006-2010 


Research group links

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Research interests

Abby has research interests in mental health, with a focus on children and adolescents. The main aim of her work is to better understand the causes of mental health difficulties in young people, and to ameliorate the negative consequences of these difficulties.

Abby's work thus far has explored social, environmental and biological causes of mental health difficulties in children and adolescents, largely working with cohort and other large epidemiological datasets. Alongside ongoing epidemiological research, Abby is now moving into the field of developing and evaluating public health interventions that promote positive outcomes for children and young people with mental health difficulties.

Abby is currently carrying out a 5-year NIHR Advanced Fellowship (July 2020-July 2025) to work alongside schools, young people and parents in order to develop and evaluate a toolkit for primary schools which aims to improve school for children and young people with impairing traits of inattention, impulsivity or hyperactivity.

Research projects

Current projects

Tools for Schools

Abby leads this project, which also has a project researcher (Suzie Holt) and PhD student (Charlie Kelman). Tools for Schools has involved devleoping a prototype of a digital toolkit (the flex toolkit) for Primary school staff to use to support children with traits of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity at school. We have spent two years developing the toolkit from the best available evidence, and are now testing this in Primary schools in the South West to see what changes we need to make in order for it to be easy for staff to pick up and use to support their students. See the project blog and website for more information, or contact the project team at

Funded by an National Insitute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Advanced Fellowship

Support Systems for Self-harm and Suicide (The 4S project)

Abby co-leads this collaborative project with Judi Kidger and Lucy Biddle (University of Bristol), with support from two researchers in Exeter (Franki Mathews and Sarah Olin).

In the 4S project, we are exploring what schools and other youth organisations currently do to prevent self-harm and suicide in young people, and the guidance and support they follow should they experience a death by suicide: prevention and postvention. This project has several parts to it: Abby is leading on a national survey of secondary schools and colleges about current practice and barriers to doing more, as well as two epidemiological studies: one exploring who young people report they talk to about self-harm or suicidal thoughts, and the other exploring whether there is a difference in how effective self-harm and suicide prevention programmes are depending on whether or not they use specific terms about self-harm and suicide when the programme is delivered, or whether these words are avoided and the programmes talk more broadly about wellbeing and coping strategies. This project started because of previous research Abby has done that showed a key barrier to schools doing more is fear of young people starting to self-harm if it is talked about openly. With the 4S project, we are hoping to provide evidence to schools about the risks or benefits of open discussion and using these words with their young people in a safe manner.

The components being led by our collaborators in Bristol include a review of existing guidance on self-harm and suicide prevention and response for youth settings, and establishing stakeholder groups of young people, parents and professionals to inform the next phase of the study.

4S is funded by NIHR School for Public Health Research, and has collaborators from Universities, the public and practitioners as part of the advisory team.

Research priorities for educating children with a history of trauma

In this research prioritisation study, we have asked school staff, young people and other key stakeholders what their top research questions are around how we approach education for children and young people with a history of trauma. Placement student El Bryant collaborated with the School for Inspiring Talents to generate a list of questions and order these by priority. We are currently writing up this work for publication and considering the best way forward to answer the top questions.

Parent peer support networks: mechanisms of behaviour change

In 2022 we conducted a qualitative study of parents and carers who are part of a peer support network for those who are supporting children and young people with mental health difficulties. We wanted to find out which of the support options offered were used by parents and how they had impacted on them and the way they support their child. Led by placement student Becky Gudka, we have made a logic model based on principles of behaviour change to hypothesise what the active ingredients of this service are. The write up of this project is currently under peer review.

Barriers and facilitators for school staff in self-harm prevention

In this study, Charlotte Chan (University of Bath) conducted a secondary analysis of the GW4 “self-harm and suicide in schools” qualitative data under Abby’s supervision. Charlotte has looked at what barriers school staff report when working to prevent or respond to self-harm, and this has informed the current 4S project. We are preparing the results for publication.

Feasibility study of the effectiveness of the Mental Health Foundation Peer Education Project

In this series of studies, Abby collaborated with Judi Kidger at the University of Bristol to evaluate the Peer Education Project- a mental health awareness project for secondary schools delivered by older students to younger students. This feasibility study was designed to answer questions about how to conduct a fully-powered randomised controlled trial of the project, to determine whether it effectively improves mental health knowledge and help-seeking in young people. Abby conducted and wrote up the quantitative analysis of the psychometric properties of the measures used (both newly developed and established measures) as well as exploring the sample size needed for a full RCT. This paper has been published, with several others from the study currently under review.

This project was funded by NIHR SPHR (QQ2).

Age of ADHD diagnosis and associations with substance use

This placement student project is using data from the longitudinal Millennium Cohort Study to explore whether the age at which a young person is diagnosed with ADHD impacts on their risk of substance use at age 17. Analysis is currently underway.

What is it about ACEs?

In this PhD studentship supervised by Abby, Becky Mars and Laura Howe (University of Bristol), researcher Bushra Farooq is conducting a series of epidemiological studies. Bushra is aiming to better understand the relationship between childhood adversity and self-harm, depression, and co-occurring self-harm and depression. She is exploring the impact of the type of adversity experienced, the timing of exposure to this adversity and cumulative impacts on the above mental health outcomes, using data from multiple UK longitudinal cohort studies. Bushra is writing up her first study findings for submission to a peer-reviewed journal.

This project is funded by the GW4 Doctoral Training Partnership.

Can you see ADHD?

PhD student Charlie Kelman, as part of the Tools for Schools project, is exploring whether observational measures used in a regular school setting can robustly identify the severity of a child’s traits of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Charlie has conducted a scoping review of observational measures, and is starting a study to explore the reliability and validity of one of these measures in identifying traits of ADHD, using the Development and Wellbeing Assessment (DAWBA) ADHD algorithm as her reference standard. Abby is lead supervisor of Charlie’s PhD, which is funded by the University of Exeter Medical School.

Associations between school experiences and mental health

In this dissertation research project, we are exploring how experiences of school reported by young people are associated with their mental health over time, using data from the Millennium Cohort Study. We are also assessing whether this relationship is substantively different for children who have a diagnosis of ADHD.

Effectiveness of Summer Treatment Programmes for non-medicated children with ADHD

In this dissertation research project, we are conducting a systematic review to explore whether “Summer treatment programmes” for ADHD are effective at improving outcomes for children who have ADHD but do not take medication for this. Summer treatment programmes are popular in the US context and most of the existing research has samples of children who are also having medication for their ADHD. In the UK, far fewer children receive medication and so we are interested in whether these programmes work for those who do not take medication to manage their symptoms.

Experiences of education for young people with ADHD in the UK

In this secondary analysis of qualitative data from the CATCh-uS study, Abby is exploring themes relating to experiences of education for young people with ADHD. We have developed a model of the “problematic provision loop”: a cycle of negative school experiences that perpetuate for young people with ADHD until they find a school that can flex around the child to meet their needs and focus on their strengths. This paper is currently under review with the British Journal of Educational Psychology.


Research networks

Abby is a Honorary Research Fellow with the Centre for Academic Mental Health, University of Bristol Medical School. She is part of the University of Exeter's Children and Young People's Health and Wellbeing network, and the national Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health. Abby was also a founding co-ordinator of the Researchers and Students on Neurodiversity (ReASoN) network for higher education students and staff. 

Abby is a member of the Strategic and Senior Leadership Teams of the Children and Young People's Mental Health collaboration (ChYMe), and co-leads the intervention development, evaluation and implementation science stream within ChYMe,

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Journal articles

Russell A (In Press). Mechanisms of school-based peer education interventions to improve young people’s health: a realist-informed systematic review. PLoS ONE
Russell A (In Press). The relationship between type, timing and duration of exposure to adverse childhood experiences and adolescent self-harm and depression: Findings from three UK prospective population-based cohorts. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
Newlove-Delgado T, Russell AE, Mathews F, Cross L, Bryant E, Gudka R, Ukoumunne OC, Ford TJ (2023). Annual Research Review: the impact of Covid-19 on psychopathology in children and young people worldwide: systematic review of studies with pre- and within-pandemic data. J Child Psychol Psychiatry, 64(4), 611-640. Abstract.  Author URL.
Russell AE, Curtin E, Widnall E, Dodd S, Limmer M, Simmonds R, Kidger J (2023). Assessing the Feasibility of a Peer Education Project to Improve Mental Health Literacy in Adolescents in the UK. Community Ment Health J, 59(4), 784-796. Abstract.  Author URL.
Russell AE, Benham-Clarke S, Ford T, Eke H, Price A, Mitchell S, Newlove-Delgado T, Moore D, Janssens A (2023). Educational experiences of young people with ADHD in the UK: Secondary analysis of qualitative data from the CATCh-uS mixed-methods study. Br J Educ Psychol, 93(4), 941-959. Abstract.  Author URL.
Russell AE, Dunn B, Hayes R, Moore D, Kidger J, Sonuga-Barke E, Pfiffner L, Ford T (2023). Investigation of the feasibility and acceptability of a school-based intervention for children with traits of ADHD: protocol for an iterative case-series study. BMJ Open, 13(2). Abstract.  Author URL.
Gudka R, Kelman C, Bryant E, Farooq B, Berry V, Bjornstad G, Martin F, Glover S-L, Russell A (2023). Parent-carer experiences using a peer support network: a qualitative study. BMC Public Health, 23(1). Abstract.  Author URL.
Orri M, Russell AE, Mars B, Turecki G, Gunnell D, Heron J, Tremblay RE, Boivin M, Nuyt A-M, Côté SM, et al (2022). Perinatal adversity profiles and suicide attempt in adolescence and young adulthood: longitudinal analyses from two 20-year birth cohort studies. Psychol Med, 52(7), 1255-1267. Abstract.  Author URL.
Russell AE, Moore D, Sanders A, Dunn B, Hayes R, Kidger J, Sonuga-Barke E, Pfiffner L, Ford T (2022). Synthesising the existing evidence for non-pharmacological interventions targeting outcomes relevant to young people with ADHD in the school setting: systematic review protocol. Syst Rev, 11(1). Abstract.  Author URL.
Widnall E, Dodd S, Simmonds R, Bohan H, Russell A, Limmer M, Kidger J (2021). A process evaluation of a peer education project to improve mental health literacy in secondary school students: study protocol. BMC Public Health, 21(1). Abstract.  Author URL.
Russell AE, Hemani G, Jones HJ, Ford T, Gunnell D, Heron J, Joinson C, Moran P, Relton C, Suderman M, et al (2021). An exploration of the genetic epidemiology of non-suicidal self-harm and suicide attempt. BMC Psychiatry, 21(1). Abstract.  Author URL.
May F, Ford T, Janssens A, Newlove-Delgado T, Emma Russell A, Salim J, Ukoumunne OC, Hayes R (2021). Attainment, attendance, and school difficulties in UK primary schoolchildren with probable ADHD. Br J Educ Psychol, 91(1), 442-462. Abstract.  Author URL.
Russell AE, Joinson C, Roberts E, Heron J, Ford T, Gunnell D, Moran P, Relton C, Suderman M, Mars B, et al (2021). Childhood adversity, pubertal timing and self-harm: a longitudinal cohort study. Psychol Med, 52(16), 1-9. Abstract.  Author URL.
Troy D, Russell A, Kidger J, Wright C (2021). Childhood psychopathology mediates associations between childhood adversities and multiple health risk behaviours in adolescence: analysis using the ALSPAC birth cohort. J Child Psychol Psychiatry, 62(9), 1100-1109. Abstract.  Author URL.
Russell AE, Mars B, Wen CP, Chang S-S, Gunnell D (2021). Evidence for an association between inflammatory markers and suicide: a cohort study based on 359,849 to 462,747 Taiwanese adults. J Affect Disord, 281, 967-971. Abstract.  Author URL.
Pavlickova H, Russell AE, Lightman S, McCabe R (2021). Feasibility of salivary cortisol collection in patients and companions attending dementia diagnostic meetings in memory clinics. BMC Res Notes, 14(1). Abstract.  Author URL.
Perry RC, Ford TJ, O’Mahen H, Russell AE (2021). Prioritising Targets for School-Based ADHD Interventions: a Delphi Survey. School Mental Health, 13(2), 235-249.
Benham-Clarke S, Ford T, Mitchell SB, Price A, Newlove-Delgado T, Blake S, Eke H, Moore DA, Russell AE, Janssens A, et al (2021). Role of education settings in transition from child to adult health services for young people with ADHD. Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, 26(4), 341-358.
Ford T, Mansfield KL, Markham S, McManus S, John A, O'Reilly D, Newlove-Delgado T, Iveson MH, Fazel M, Munshi JD, et al (2021). The challenges and opportunities of mental health data sharing in the UK. Lancet Digit Health, 3(6), e333-e336.  Author URL.
Rajapakse T, Russell AE, Kidger J, Bandara P, López-López JA, Senarathna L, Metcalfe C, Gunnell D, Knipe D (2020). Childhood adversity and self-poisoning: a hospital case control study in Sri Lanka. PLoS One, 15(11). Abstract.  Author URL.
Russell AE, Ford T, Gunnell D, Heron J, Joinson C, Moran P, Relton C, Suderman M, Hemani G, Mars B, et al (2020). Investigating evidence for a causal association between inflammation and self-harm: a multivariable Mendelian Randomisation study. Brain Behav Immun, 89, 43-50. Abstract.  Author URL.
Evans R, Parker R, Russell AE, Mathews F, Ford T, Hewitt G, Scourfield J, Janssens A (2019). Adolescent self-harm prevention and intervention in secondary schools: a survey of staff in England and Wales. Child Adolesc Ment Health, 24(3), 230-238. Abstract.  Author URL.
Russell AE, Ford T, Russell G (2019). Barriers and predictors of medication use for childhood ADHD: findings from a UK population-representative cohort. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol, 54(12), 1555-1564. Abstract.  Author URL.
Russell AE, Tay M, Ford T, Russell G, Moore D (2019). Educational practitioners’ perceptions of ADHD: a qualitative study of views of the home lives of children with ADHD in the UK. British Journal of Special Education, 46(1), 8-28.
Russell AE, Heron J, Gunnell D, Ford T, Hemani G, Joinson C, Moran P, Relton C, Suderman M, Mars B, et al (2019). Pathways between early-life adversity and adolescent self-harm: the mediating role of inflammation in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. J Child Psychol Psychiatry, 60(10), 1094-1103. Abstract.  Author URL.
Ford T, Hayes R, Byford S, Edwards V, Fletcher M, Logan S, Norwich B, Pritchard W, Allen K, Allwood M, et al (2019). Training teachers in classroom management to improve mental health in primary school children: the STARS cluster RCT. Public Health Research, 7(6), 1-150.
Psychogiou L, Nath S, Kallitsoglou A, Dimatis K, Parry E, Russell AE, Yilmaz M, Kuyken W, Moberly NJ (2018). Children's emotion understanding in relation to attachment to mother and father. Br J Dev Psychol, 36(4), 557-572. Abstract.  Author URL.
Moore DA, Russell AE, Matthews J, Ford TJ, Rogers M, Ukoumunne OC, Kneale D, Thompson‐Coon J, Sutcliffe K, Nunns M, et al (2018). Context and Implications Document for: School‐based interventions for attention‐deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a systematic review with multiple synthesis methods. Review of Education, 6(3), 264-266.
Moore DA, Russell AE, Matthews J, Ford TJ, Rogers M, Ukoumunne OC, Kneale D, Thompson‐Coon J, Sutcliffe K, Nunns M, et al (2018). School‐based interventions for attention‐deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a systematic review with multiple synthesis methods. Review of Education, 6(3), 209-263.
Russell AE, Ford T, Russell G (2018). The relationship between financial difficulty and childhood symptoms of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a UK longitudinal cohort study. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol, 53(1), 33-44. Abstract.  Author URL.
Psychogiou L, Moberly NJ, Parry E, Russell AE, Nath S, Kallitsoglou A (2017). Does fathers' and mothers' rumination predict emotional symptoms in their children?. Br J Clin Psychol, 56(4), 431-442. Abstract.  Author URL.
Moore DA, Russell AE, Arnell S, Ford TJ (2017). Educators' experiences of managing students with ADHD: a qualitative study. Child Care Health Dev, 43(4), 489-498. Abstract.  Author URL.
Ford T, Macdiarmid F, Russell AE, Racey D, Goodman R (2017). The predictors of persistent DSM-IV disorders in 3-year follow-ups of the British Child and Adolescent Mental Health Surveys 1999 and 2004. Psychol Med, 47(6), 1126-1137. Abstract.  Author URL.
Gwernan-Jones R, Moore DA, Cooper P, Russell AE, Richardson M, Rogers M, Thompson-Coon J, Stein K, Ford TJ, Garside R, et al (2016). A systematic review and synthesis of qualitative research: the influence of school context on symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, 21(1), 83-100.
Richards DA, Bower P, Chew-Graham C, Gask L, Lovell K, Cape J, Pilling S, Araya R, Kessler D, Barkham M, et al (2016). Clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of collaborative care for depression in UK primary care (CADET): a cluster randomised controlled trial. Health Technol Assess, 20(14), 1-192. Abstract.  Author URL.
Russell AE, Moore DA, Ford T (2016). Educational practitioners’ beliefs and conceptualisation about the cause of ADHD: a qualitative study. Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, 21(1), 101-118.
Russell AE, Ford T, Williams R, Russell G (2016). The Association Between Socioeconomic Disadvantage and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): a Systematic Review. Child Psychiatry Hum Dev, 47(3), 440-458. Abstract.  Author URL.
Russell AE, Ford T, Russell G (2015). Socioeconomic Associations with ADHD: Findings from a Mediation Analysis. PLoS One, 10(6). Abstract.  Author URL.


Russell A (2022). Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Attendance at School. In Finning K, Ford T, Moore D (Eds.) Mental Health and Attendance at School, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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External Engagement and Impact

External Examiner Positions

Abby is an external examiner for MRes, PhD and DClinPsy degress at Kings College London and the University of Cambridge.

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Abby's teaching interests are around in epidemiology, psychology, mental health and health research. She has taught on a variety of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, including Introduction to StataCritical appraisal in psychiatry, and contributed content to the Massive Open Online Course on ADHD, hosted by Kings College, London. Abby is currently developing two new modules for the Masters of Public Health, to open a mega-track in Public Mental Health in the 2024/25 academic year.

Current teaching in 2022/23

Master of Public Health- HPDM121 and HPDM121Z Epidemiology (module co-lead)



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Supervision / Group

Research Fellows

  • Kirsty Cordwell
  • Suzie Holt

Postdoctoral researchers

  • Franki Mathews
  • Sarah Olin

Postgraduate researchers

  • Charlotte Kelman

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Office Hours:

I teach for the equivalent of one day per week. I am available for queries and meetings by phone, Teams or zoom as well as meeting in person.

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