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York awarded funding for mental health network

Posted on 6 September 2018

The University of York has secured £1.2m funding to form an innovative mental health network which will focus on improving physical health and reducing health inequalities for people with severe mental illness.

The York-led 'Closing the Gap' Network+ will address the 'mortality gap' between the general population and people with severe forms of mental ill health, who experience profound health inequalities. The network will examine the causes of poor physical health and reduced life expectancy for people who use mental health services, and look at interventions.

The network is one of eight funded by UK Research and Innovation; between them, the eight networks will receive approximately £8m. The York network will be funded for four years, and will support new research and collaboration in this area.  

Professor Simon Gilbody, who holds a joint appointment with Hull York Medical School and the University of York, will lead the network. Professor Gilbody is also Director of the Mental Health and Addiction Research Group in the University’s Department of Health Sciences.

The network includes researchers from the University’s Centre for Reviews and Dissemination, the Cochrane Common Mental Disorders Group, the Centre for Health Economics, the departments of Environment and Geography, Health Sciences, and Theatre, Film and Television.  

'Closing the Gap' Network+ will bring together a cross-disciplinary collective of researchers in collaboration with organisations including Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Trust, Mental Health Foundation, The Equality Trust, Keele University, Natural England, Wildlife Trust and Groundwork Trust. Over the next four years the network will grow to involve other universities and organisations. At the centre of the network will be partnerships with people with lived experience of mental ill health.

Closing the gap

People with severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder typically die 20-25 years earlier than those without. This mortality gap is mostly due to physical health problems such as heart disease, diabetes or cancers associated with lifestyle factors.

There are complex and multiple causes of the mortality gap. Rates of smoking and obesity are much higher in this population, while housing is often poor. People with severe mental illness typically lead sedentary lives, meaning they miss out on the benefits of exercise and interaction with the natural environment.

'Closing the Gap' Network+ aims to address this mortality gap by focusing on four innovative areas:

  • Harnessing green space to improve physical and mental health

  • Unlocking the potential of big data to understand health and deliver better services

  • Exploring how digital technology can be harnessed to help people manage their own health and wellbeing

  • Using the arts and creativity to understand the experience of people with severe mental illness, and improve their physical health

Improving mental health is one of the greatest challenges facing modern society. The eight mental health networks will embrace a collaborative ethos to tackling this challenge.

Strategic priority

Professor Sir Mark Walport, Chief Executive of UK Research and Innovation, said: “Mental ill health is the single largest cause of disability in the UK, and it is estimated that almost a quarter of the country’s population are affected by mental health issues each year.

“The UKRI Mental Health Networks will take a new approach to addressing this challenge by bringing together researchers across a wide range of disciplines with people who have experienced mental health issues, charities, health practitioners and other organisations. Through their work, the new Networks will further our understanding about the causes, development and treatments of a wide range of mental health issues.”

Professor Gilbody added: “We are excited to have been awarded this network in the face of very strong competition from across the UK. Mental health is a strategic priority for York and the award recognises the strength of our work to improve the physical health of people who use mental health services. This is a true collaboration where we will seek creative solutions to reduce this historic and neglected health inequality. This is what York does best.”

The University of York has a strong portfolio of research addressing the challenges of mental ill health. We develop and apply innovative methods to make a difference to care at all levels: from the local York community and the University’s own students and staff, to national and international policy and practice. Read more about our mental health research.

UK Research and Innovation brings together the UK’s seven research councils, Innovate UK and Research England to maximise the contribution of each council and create the best environment for research and innovation to flourish. The vision is to ensure the UK maintains its world-leading position in research and innovation.