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New funding boost for NIHR mental health research in under-served areas

Published: 18 February 2022

The NIHR has funded more than 100 new mental health projects in areas of unmet need across its research infrastructure, research schools and research funding programmes since June 2021, in its biggest-ever coordinated investment in UK mental health research.

The funding from NIHR's Mental Health Research Initiative is in addition to NIHR’s existing investment in mental health research.

Mental health problems are the largest cause of disability in the UK and represent an increasing disease burden across all ages. Many regions of the country do not receive the support they need despite having a high prevalence of mental health problems. 

Following the 2020/21 Spending Review, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the NIHR announced a rapid new Mental Health Research Initiative to help tackle the disparity between regional needs and mental health research activity. 

The initiative has a focus on regions and groups where mental health research is most needed, including children and young people, ethnic minorities and people with pre-existing physical health conditions. 

Professor Lucy Chappell, Chief Executive of the NIHR and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department of Health and Social Care, said: “This significant investment builds on the world-class research already taking place across the NIHR, increasing our capacity to undertake high quality mental health research across our programmes, infrastructure and schools.

“By supporting high quality mental health research in under-served areas of England and in groups where mental health problems are less well researched, we will make a difference to the communities and patients most affected by mental health issues.”

Broadening and understanding current mental health research capacity 

A key component of the Mental Health Research Initiative is to support researchers within three NIHR infrastructure schemes. The funding supports existing expertise in mental health research and also allows researchers to add mental health research activities within projects whose primary focus is on physical health.

  • Eleven NIHR Applied Research Collaborations (ARCs) have been awarded additional funding to boost mental health research in their region
  • Two NIHR Patient Safety Translational Research Centres (PSTRCs) have received funding to support mental health research alongside their existing research on how to make healthcare safer.
  • Six NIHR Medtech and In vitro diagnostics Co-operatives (MICs) have received additional funding to add mental health research into their research programmes and develop a national network of experts dedicated to transforming mental health through new medical devices and in vitro diagnostics. For example, the Devices for Dignity MIC will develop mental health research within their existing physical health research themes in kidney diseases, diabetes and long-term neurological conditions, including a SmartWatch Technology to support emotional and condition management for young people with urinary tract or renal conditions. 

Supporting research collaborations across the NIHR

The Mental Health Research Initiative has also funded a collaboration across the NIHR School for Public Health Research, School for Primary Care Research and School for Social Care Research to evaluate existing community-based treatments for mental health and support joint research projects. The Schools will also use some of their funding towards 13 cross-school fellowships to support dedicated mental health research.

Funding high quality mental health research

Finally, a number of new funding calls for mental health research took place under the Mental Health Research Initiative, covering health, social care, and policy research

For example, the NIHR Invention for Innovation (i4i) programme funded 12 new projects focused on mental health needs in children and young people. These include a mobile phone app for young people to manage body image difficulties associated with eating disorders, and the early evaluation of a mobile app supporting young people with self-harm.

In addition, the initiative has provided top-up funding to a selection of existing projects, so researchers can either add additional study sites in locations previously under-served by research or to incorporate a mental health element into the research. 

The funding provided by the Mental Health Research Initiative is part of the NIHR’s commitment to the Mental Health Research Goals 2020-2030.

Programme or schemeNumber of Mental Health Research Initiative awards
Invention for Innovation 12
Policy Research Programme 2
Programme Development Grants 4
Research for Patient Benefit 10
Research for Social Care 2
Applied Research Collaborations 11
Medtech and In vitro Diagnostics Co-operatives 6
Patient Safety Translational Research Centres 2
Cross-NIHR schools collaboration  13 cross schools fellowships and 11 projects
Top-ups to existing NIHR awards 38


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