Our history

We have pioneered new ways of looking at mental health and improving the lives of people experiencing mental illness for more than 60 years.

How the Mental Health Foundation began

In January 1949, Dr Derek Richter, a neurochemist with a particular interest in mental health, vented his frustration at the scarcity of funding for the field. "I am getting tired of this perpetual fight to get small sums for research," he wrote, "when our colleagues working on cancer and TB are almost embarrassed by the money being thrust at them." Richter, director of research at the Whitchurch hospital in Cardiff, had an idea for how things could be changed. Obviously, he declared, "there should be a Mental Health Research Fund."

Derek Richter and his legacy

We spoke to Derek Richter's colleagues Ted Reynolds and Robert Balazs about Derek, his motivations, his legacy and why he decided to set up the Mental Health Research Fund, which later became known as the Mental Health Foundation.

Richter enlisted the help of Ian Henderson, a well-connected stockbroker, and the first meeting of the Mental Health Research Fund (MHRF) took place at the Royal Society of Medicine on 18 July the same year. Henderson took the job of chairman, while Sir Geofrey Vickers VC, the distinguished war hero, lawyer, and systems scientist, became chairman of the research committee.

Fundraising began in earnest, with the aim of securing money to award grants. Meanwhile, the embryonic organisation set itself the task of bringing together experts practising a variety of approaches. This bore fruit in 1952, when the first MHRF conference took place in Oxford. The research committee was also a multi-disciplinary affair, aiming to give a voice to all academic fields concerned with mental health

Download our publication 'A brief history of the Mental Health Foundation'

Early years

In our first two decades, we became a key funder for research work and began to influence government policy on mental health. This model remains at the heart of our work today - we use our groundbreaking research and development work to influence policy and improve services delivery.

New ways of working

We took on our current name in 1972 and shifted our focus away from laboratory research and towards working directly with - and learning from - people who experience mental health problems. We pioneered new ways of involving mental health service users in research projects€“ as both participants and researchers. This approach ensures that the expert voices of people with experiences of mental illness are always reflected in our work.

Expanding our role

We expanded our work as an information provider and campaigning organisation in the last decades of the 20th Century. We promoted the idea that that good mental health and wellbeing is for everyone and not just those experiencing problems.

We have continued to work at the forefront of mental health, often focusing on overlooked and under-researched areas such as personality disorders and mental health issues that affect black and minority ethnic people.

Our public mental health campaigns on topics such as exercise and depression, diet, smoking, alcohol and friendship have raised awareness of their contribution to mental health and helped to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.

The Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities

The distinction between learning disabilities and mental health problems was not as clear in the past as it is today. The field of learning disabilities has a lot in common with the field of mental health - including a history of institutional care (and neglect), discrimination and stigma. However, this has sometimes led to unhelpful blurring of the areas in which they are different.
In 1999 we decided to take our learning disabilities work forward under a new brand - the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities.

In 2003, the team doubled in size with the transfer-in of the learning disabilities team from King's College London. Today FPLD works directly with people with learning disabilities, their families and services to help put policy into practice, carry out research and development work and influence national and local policy.

Looking to the future

Our work will not be done until we eliminate the needless suffering that mental illness causes to individuals, their family, their friends and society as a whole.

We rely on the generous support of many individuals, companies and grant-making bodies to do this. If you would like to help, please support us.