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New paper sets out mental health research goals for the next decade

Posted on 14 May 2021

Researchers from the Universities of York, Oxford, Cambridge and King's College London have co-authored a report commissioned by the Chief Medical Officer for England, outlining the future direction for mental health research.

Around one in six adults in the UK are likely to experience mental health difficulties in any given week, leading to significant social and economic impacts. The British Medical Association has warned the mental health consequences of covid are likely to be significant, and so the need for more focused mental health research has never been greater.

Multidisciplinary 

Professor Simon Gilbody from the Department of Health Sciences joined a multidisciplinary group led by Professor Dame Til Wykes from King’s College London, brought together by Professor Whitty, Chief Medical Officer and co-lead of the National Institute for Health Research, to consider high-level mental health goals and targets to measure research impact.

The influential group comprised clinicians, academics, experts-by-experience, mental health research funders and charities, and representatives from Public Health England and the NHS. Together they identified four overarching goals to speed up the implementation of mental health research and provide a clear direction for researchers, funders and policymakers. 

They aim to:

  • Halve the number of children and young people experiencing persistent mental health problems
  • Improve our understanding of the links between physical and mental health, and eliminate the mortality gap
  • Increase the number of new and improved treatments, interventions and supports for mental health problems
  • Improve the availability of choices and access to mental health care, treatment and support in hospital and community settings

Innovation

Professor Chris Whitty said: “Few could disagree that mental health research, is crucial in driving innovation in current mental health care and in bringing hope for the future. Working with clinicians, academics, major mental health research funders, mental health research charities and representatives from service users groups, as well as representatives from Public Health England and NHS England has been key to identifying those areas of most concern and transforming them into four distinct research goals which the mental health community can sign up to.”

Professor Simon Gilbody, Director of the University of York and Hull York Medical School’s Mental Health and Addictions Research Group (MHARG), played a critical part in determining the second goal which aims to understand and reduce the health inequality faced by people with severe mental ill-health. 

Mortality gap

Professor Gilbody said: “People living with severe mental health problems are three times more likely to have a physical health problem and may die 10 to 20 years earlier - known as the mortality gap. Most premature deaths are caused by smoking, alcohol and substance abuse, and obesity as well as poverty, homelessness and unemployment.”

Professor Gilbody, a psychiatrist and population scientist, also Directs the influential UKRI Closing the Gap Network, which will be key in delivering this goal. 

He added: “Despite knowing these risk behaviours, changing them is complex. We still don’t know how physical and mental health problems interact with each other, or whether an intervention for one problem affects another. It is only with this information we can start to eliminate the mortality gap.”

The Closing the Gap Network is one of eight collaborative programmes in mental health funded by the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), which will work to deliver the targets published in the Journal of Mental Health earlier this week.

Professor Dame Til Wykes led the report. She said: “The pandemic has and will produce a double whammy – the effects of lockdown and the effects of economic slowdown that exacerbate existing socio-economic inequalities.  With so many people facing an increased risk, it’s vital that we act now to proactively meet the challenges of the next 10 to 20 years head on.”

Further information:

Professor Simon Gilbody, from the University of York and Professor Dame Til Wykes, from King’s College London, discuss the paper ‘Shared goals for mental health research: what, why and when for the 2020s’ in the latest episode of Closing the Gap Network’s Research Sofa.

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