Mental health & wellbeing

At any one time, one in six people in the UK are experiencing a mental illness such as depression. This costs the economy in England alone an estimated £105 billion a year. In 2010 the MRC published an influential review of mental health research (PDF, 1,036 KB) (PDF, 1.01MB), which concluded that the UK has the potential to build capacity and bring innovation to research into mental health conditions. Applying new approaches to research, identifying early risk factors and exploring resilience will drive progress in preventing mental illness and developing new treatments.


To explore the risk factors for poor mental health, and the relationship between mental and physical health, wellbeing and resilience to disease processes.


  • We support a broad range of fundamental research in neurosciences within, for example, the MRC Laboratory for Molecular Biology, the developing Francis Crick Institute and at many MRC units and centres.
  • We support pioneering research to understand cognitive processes such as attention, learning, and memory, which are affected in many mental health and neurodegenerative diseases.
  • We fund innovative exploratory experimental medicine studies for new treatments in mental health.
  • We support projects that link population data and patient data to study the causes of mental illness, and continue to support major epidemiological and genomic studies identifying the risk factors for poor mental health.
  • Together with the Medical Research Foundation, the MRC has established a new clinical research training programme in psychiatry.


  • We seek to strengthen our knowledge of cellular and molecular neurological mechanisms and the function of the brain and how this relates to mental health and disease.
  • We aim to understand the connections between the brain and other body systems, and understand the genetic and environmental risk factors that cause mental illness.
  • We will explore the potential for neuroinformatics, to understand brain function by analysing, integrating and modelling experimental and clinical data.
  • Through investment in experimental medicine we will inform new therapeutic approaches and exploit existing and new data to inform preventive strategies.
  • Rapidly emerging knowledge about the role of the genome in mental illness and advances in developmental biology will help us to unravel the complexity of emotional and behavioural disturbances and inform proof of concept in potential new therapies.
  • We aim to harness the richness of data from cohort studies and health-related records and new technology to accelerate the development of preventive strategies against mental illness across the life course.

Making an impact: Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy - a promising new approach to preventing depressive relapse

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) was developed as a way of teaching people with a history of depression the skills to stay well in the long term. MRC-funded researchers at Exeter University have translated early ideas about MBCT into a technique which, when combined with antidepressants, has been shown to reduce depression more than antidepressants alone in early phase studies.

NICE now recommends MBCT for relapse prevention and the NIHR has funded a major late-stage trial of MBCT which is due to finish in 2013.


We will support discovery research across the breadth of neuroscience and mental health, with an emphasis on linking genome data and cognitive processes with behaviour and neuronal systems.

  • We will advocate an approach that works across clinical criteria and focuses on the role of complex networks shared by different disorders.
  • We will make full use of data from cohort studies and health-related records and continue to determine how mental illness emerges during periods of vulnerability in development.
  • We will initiate focussed exemplar areas in partnerships with industry such as understanding interactions between mental illness, inflammation and metabolic processes. We will also exploit UK expertise in complementary areas such as computational and developmental biology.
  • We will form partnerships with other stakeholders, especially industry and mental health charities, to encourage exploration of new experimental approaches combined with new methods such as stratification and adaptive design of clinical trials.
  • We will explore how a person's social circumstances and life history contribute to their mental health and how this knowledge combined with genetic risk, assessment of personality, cognition, behaviour, and brain function can be used in treatment strategies.