2 May 2017

MRC Launches New Mental Health Strategy

The Medical Research Council’s neuroscience and mental health board has today launched a completely updated mental health strategy (PDF, 750KB) to drive forward discovery science in the field.

Mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, are estimated to affect approximately one in six people at any time in the UK and have a significant and long-term impact on the lives of individuals and their families. Mental disorders cost the UK economy an estimated £70-100 billion annually.

The MRC will work with other Research Councils; Departments of Health across the four nations of the UK; charities; industry and people with experience of mental illness.

While continuing to support mental health research through the MRC’s open competitions for research grants and fellowships, the new strategy aims to accelerate understanding of mental illness and the development of new treatments by focusing research in a number of key areas. These will include:

  • A lifelong perspective on mental health and illness with special emphasis on youth and adolescence because of the impact of early life on lifelong mental health. (Work on the MRC-funded Dunedin cohort showed that 50% of mental illness started before the age of 15 and 75% by age 18.)
  • Harnessing data from patients, cohorts and the NHS and employing cutting edge informatics technology and expertise supporting cohort and patient group studies. This will include working with health services and other funders to link research programmes and informatics on a larger scale, allowing better use of information about mental health in existing UK population studies, and new studies with patients, people at risk, and healthy volunteers, powered with new technology. We will provide extra support for researchers to engage with the new Health Data Research UK. This national institute will have a priority topic in lifelong mental health and will be vital in the development of capacity and methods to use new data science.
  • Develop a major new investment in global mental health (up to £20m over five years in the first instance) in order to progress understanding of the interactions between biology, environment, culture, cognition and experiences during childhood and adolescence that contribute to mental health disorders and directly address the growing global burden of mental illness.
  • Accelerate research and development of better pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical therapies (including psychological, behavioural, cognitive and digital) and early, preventative interventions for mental illness. One barrier to therapy development is that validated targets are not being developed quickly from discovery science effort. This could be accelerated by the development of validated cellular, animal, cognitive and behavioural models.

Dr Rob Buckle, Chief Science Officer at the MRC, said: “In research terms, five years may not seem a long time, but since the MRC launched its strategy for mental health research in 2012 there have been a number of advances in understanding the biological, environmental and psychological factors that influence the development and impact of mental illness.

“Mental health has been and continues to be a priority for the MRC, from funding our researchers to explore the role our genes play in mental health, through understanding brain function and cognitive processes, to developing new digital technologies to help people to live with conditions as challenging as schizophrenia.

“With a significant financial commitment to ensure the UK is at the forefront of new discovery science in mental health, this rebooted strategy sets out how we will further accelerate our understanding of mental illness with the long-term aim of developing new treatments for the prevention of, and early interventions for, mental disorders."