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£30 million investment to rebalance the scale of mental health research

Published: 06 August 2021

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the NIHR have announced a new £30 million Mental Health Research Initiative in order to help tackle the disparity between regional needs and mental health research activity.

This marks NIHR’s largest-ever funding of UK mental health research, and has been coordinated to target acute regional and community mental health needs and strengthen the nation’s capacity for high impact research.

Through the initiative, a series of funding calls are being held across NIHR programmes and infrastructure to provide a comprehensive package of research on mental health.

In July, Programme Development Grants, Research for Patient Benefit and Research for Social Care launched calls focused on mental health studies. Later this month, Invention for Innovation will open round 5 of its Connect Awards, including the Children's and Young People's Mental Health Awards (CYPMH).

Professor Lucy Chappell, Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) for DHSC and  NIHR's Chief Executive Officer, said: "Mental health affects people across the UK and is a key priority for DHSC and the NIHR. As well as being high quality, our research must be delivered to areas that need it the most.

"This positive initiative will help to tackle geographical disparities by basing studies in parts of the country with a high level of mental health problems, which have traditionally seen little research activity. By doing this we will broaden our capacity and level up the UK’s research landscape.”

NIHR’s commitment to mental health research

Mental health problems are the largest cause of disability in the UK and represent an increasing burden across all ages. The impact mental health problems can have on individuals is vast, and the wider societal and economic consequences include increased rates of comorbid physical illnesses, shortened life expectancy, social exclusion, socioeconomic disadvantage, and raised demand for health and welfare support.

Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, said: “The NIHR is committed to strengthening our capacity and capability to undertake high quality mental health research across the country. This initiative is a first step in increasing the research funding available to previously under-served areas, to involving more people in the research process, and ensuring that new knowledge is accessible to people delivering and using services. Equitable access to effective mental health care, treatment and support is key to improving the mental health of our nation.”

Many regions of the country do not receive the support they need despite having a high prevalence of mental health problems. To address this mismatc, NIHR aims to broaden the current research base - largely concentrated in a small number of geographical locations - and boost capacity and capability to conduct mental health research across the country. This will support the drive to conduct studies in populations with the greatest health need.

Mental health research is an ongoing priority for the DHSC and the NIHR. Best Research for Best Health: The Next Chapter, published in June 2021, reaffirms NIHR's core priorities and highlights our commitment to bring clinical and applied research to under-served regions and communities with significant health needs. The NIHR has also pledged to improve the lives of people with multiple long-term conditions, which can overlap with mental health problems.

Since its inception, the NIHR has supported 751 research studies in mental health, which have helped highlight the impact of high-quality research on communities and individuals affected by mental health problems and associated conditions. Our portfolio includes studies that examine the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of mental health conditions, such as the PATHWAY project, which has been studying the use of psychological treatments to improve symptoms of anxiety and depression for heart disease patients.

The impact of pregnancy on young women’s mental health was investigated in a project funded through Programme Grants for Applied Research, which has shown the importance of targeting healthcare resources to expectant mothers under the age of 25. The Invention for Innovation programme has also funded research pioneering the use of virtual reality to treat NHS patients with psychosis.

Last year the NIHR teamed up with Grand Challenges Canada to relaunch the Global Mental Health research programme, which has a particular focus on young people in low- and middle-income countries.

The Mental Health Research Initiative aims to build on these successes through the support of high-quality and timely evidence that delivers mental health improvements to areas and groups where they are most needed, as outlined in the recently established Mental Health Research Goals 2020-2030.

Mental health funding calls

ProgrammeLaunch dateClosing date
Research for Patient Benefit call 1 1 June 15 June
Programme Development Grants 28 June 4 August
Policy Research Programme call 1 12 July 7 September
Policy Research Programme call 2 12 July 7 September
Research for Patient Benefit call 2 21 July 10 November
Research for Social Care 21 July 19 October
Invention for Innovation 17 August 14 September

More information about these funding calls is available on our Funding Opportunities webpage.

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