Welcoming a landmark day for mental health research

Friday 18 August: a landmark day for mental health research. Why? The UK's Research Councils jointly published their statement of intent: Widening cross-disciplinary research for mental health. One of the drivers for the establishment of the Mental Health Foundation in 1949 was to secure fair investment in mental health research that would directly benefit people experiencing distress, their families and communities.

As Head of Research and Policy for the UK’s public mental health charity, I welcome the Research Council's strong focus on prevention, inequalities, and the connection between physical and mental health. Welcome, too, is the commitment to an ethos of involving people impacted by mental health issues from the outset and throughout the research process. The Research Council's agenda aligns with our own research strategy and approach. The Research Councils set a progressive course ahead of the autumn launch of England’s ten-year Mental Health Research Strategy.

Mental ill health is the largest single cause of disability in the UK (28% of the national ‘disease burden’). It is the leading cause of sickness absence and costs the UK economy £70-100million per year (4.5% of Gross Domestic Product). One of the greatest scandals of our time is that people with diagnoses of mental illness die on average 15-20 years earlier than those without, often from avoidable causes. 30% of people with a long-term physical health problem also have a mental health problem; and 46% of people with a mental health problem also have a physical health problem. The Foundation’s Fundamental Facts make the case for the prioritisation of mental health. Fair investment in mental health research is critical to ensuring we address these challenges effectively.

The Research Councils advocate for investment in cross-disciplinary mental health research. Given the complexity of mental health, no one perspective or discipline has all the answers (or questions). We need to build our understanding and knowledge of the social, cultural, historical, environmental, contextual and psychological factors, as well as the medical and biological knowledge that has traditionally dominated mental health research. In this new chapter for mental health research, it is important that we continue to ensure that research is informed and led by those with lived experience of mental health problems.

The Research Councils set out four research areas:

  1. Understanding mental health and mental health problems
  2. Connection between physical and mental health
  3. Public health, prevention and wellbeing
  4. Living with mental health problems.

Effective interventions; technology and data; lifestyle and behaviour; inequalities; and empowerment, ethics, confidentially and trust are the cross cutting themes.

The scope is ambitious; and I am looking forward to the Foundation working with the Research Councils to deliver this vital research agenda.