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Building momentum in mental health research

by Guest Author on 27 Feb 2019

Today’s latest report from the charity MQ raises important questions about how much is spent on mental health research in the UK. So we asked Dr Jo Latimer, MRC Head of Neurosciences and Mental Health, to talk us through the funding we dedicate to this area – and why it’s a top priority for us.

Research looking across the life course, from childhood to adulthood, will help us to address gaps in our knowledge about mental health conditions. Image credit: cherylholt on Pixabay.

This year, in the UK, about a quarter of us will be affected by mental health problems that are serious enough to need treatment, support and care. At least 75% of us know someone in our friend or family circle who has experienced problems with their mental health and we’re seeing a worrying rise in the number of children and adolescents experiencing a mental health disorder.

Getting a holistic view

As one of the UK’s top three funders of mental health research, and in the top ten globally, we support research relating to the biomedical, psychological and social science aspects of mental health.

Over the past five years, we’ve spent over £140 million on mental health research and in 2017/2018, we invested more than ever – almost £40 million.

As a research pioneer in this field, we’ve played a vital role in supporting the development of new treatments including cognitive behavioural therapies and virtual reality cognitive therapy. We’ve also sought to understand the impact of health inequalities on mental health – including social, behavioural and environmental factors – through the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit. 

We’re committed to working in partnership with others, such as the Economic and Social Research Council and charity partners, to ensure our researchers investigate, test and take forward the best research ideas, taking into consideration the lived experience of patients and those who care for them.

Mental health is a highly complex area of research, and gaps in our knowledge and understanding about so many mental health conditions remain.

Committed to the cause

We still don’t know why some people develop mental health issues while others do not. And we don’t currently have a full picture of the fundamental processes that underpin mental health conditions. We also haven’t yet got all the information we need to identify those most at risk so that early intervention is possible, or to be able to gauge the best prevention methods.

Looking across the life course, from childhood to adulthood, will help us to address these gaps in our knowledge and lead to better outcomes, as will the expansion of our work into global mental health and data science.

Building on a strong UK research base

Because the whole research system needs to be strong – from buildings and equipment to the people carrying out the research – we’re looking at ways in which we can further provide support for the future.

Alongside direct investment in mental health research we already fund infrastructure and capacity investments, such as population studies like UK Biobank and the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children that track the health of thousands of people.

Only last week, researchers used one of our cohorts, the E-Risk Study of twins, to reveal the extent of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in young people.

We currently invest in neuroimaging facilities, tissue banks, data infrastructure and researcher training. And we’re developing plans for an exciting and innovative mental health platform (see page 22 of our ‘Strategy for Lifelong Mental Health Research’).

Given the importance of prevention, treatment and diagnoses research we also fund projects in these areas alongside the National Institute for Health Research.

This is a vibrant and rich area of research which will continue to gain momentum over the coming years. Together with the whole of the research community, charity partners, patients and their families we will continue helping to deliver research that makes a real difference.

We’re committed to addressing future gaps and opportunities for mental health research as a member of the Mental Health Research Funders Group.



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