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UK Research Councils join forces on mental health


The UK’s seven research councils have announced they will be working together to encourage and strengthen mental health research. Mental health is recognised as a major societal challenge that requires novel cross-disciplinary research approaches, that is, research that spans more than one branch of specialist knowledge. Today marks the publication of a new research agenda, paving the way for cross-council collaboration on mental health in the years ahead. Following the publication of the research agenda, a cross council call will be launched in early September 2017.

In 2016 an expert group was set up to advise the research councils on the development of a new mental health research agenda to strengthen cross-disciplinary research. The group was made up of leading academics in the field of mental health. It considered specific research areas that could be tackled through cross-disciplinary work and across the individual remits of each research council. A wider group was also consulted, including academics, funders, mental health charities, representatives of end users of research and service user organisations.

Prof Sir Mark Walport, Chief Executive designate of UK Research and Innovation said: “Improving mental health is one of the greatest challenges facing modern society. It will be essential to take a multi-disciplinary, coordinated approach. That is exactly what this research agenda does and it paves the way for similar work in the future by UK Research and Innovation.

"By spelling out the opportunities for researchers to work together to solve such grand challenges, we can make sure that both structurally and operationally, the UK’s research system is more than the sum of its parts.”

Professor Andrew Steptoe, chair of the expert group, said mental illness was the largest single cause of disability in the UK, representing more than a quarter of the national disease burden: “I’d like to thank the people who made this project possible – the academics, charities, mental health practitioners and service users who gave their time and expertise.

Mental health is a complex issue. We need to understand many aspects much better - including how communities deal with it, how we pick up early signs and prevent problems from escalating, how we diagnose and treat people, and how we train our professionals. This agenda is designed to complement the wealth of activity already underway across the research councils as well as other organisations, and we hope it will co-ordinate and inspire cross-disciplinary research in the years ahead.”

Professor Louise Arseneault, Mental Health Leadership Fellow for the Economic and Social Research Council, said: “For too long we have lacked a joined up approach to mental health research in the UK. But this agenda is a step in the right direction and I think researchers will find this document tremendously useful.”

It is estimated that 23% of the UK population is affected by mental health problems at some point each year. In spite of recent progress, more research is needed to better understand how to prevent, diagnose and treat mental illness. Only about a quarter of people with a mental health problem are deemed to receive ongoing treatment, leaving the majority grappling with mental health issues seeking help or information on their own, and depending on the informal support of family, friends or colleagues.

You can view the new mental health research agenda here .

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Notes to Editors

  1. UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) will incorporate the seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and the research funding and knowledge exchange parts of Higher Education Funding Council for England. UKRI will be formed in April 2018.

  2. Professor Louise Arseneault is ESRC’s Mental Health Leadership Fellow, championing the role of the social sciences in mental health research. She provides intellectual leadership and strategic advice on how social science research can best address the challenges that mental health poses for our society, communities and individuals.

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