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Four things we've learnt through mental health research funded by MQ

Mental health research can sometimes seem like an abstract idea. It can be hard to know exactly what mental health researchers are studying, and what it means for people with mental illness.

Here at MQ, we know how important it is for research to have an impact on real people’s lives. That's why we fund projects that improve the lives of people affected by mental illness. Here’s a look at what your donations supported in 2019, and what we learnt from research.

Developing a new treatment for worry and rumination in anxiety and depression

Dr Colette Hirsch from King's College London has been testing a new treatment for people who can’t stop themselves from worrying. People with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) have problems moving their mental spotlight away from anxious thoughts.
Using funding from MQ, Colette has investigated how these thoughts form in people’s minds, and how they can be changed.
The treatment means that people with anxiety disorder can live life in a fuller way, without constant worry. Her research showed that the new treatment was effective, and it’s now being given to patients with Generalised Anxiety Disorder at the South London and Maudsley Hospital. It’s also being adapted to be used by people with Parkinson’s Disease, fatigue, and Multiple Sclerosis.

An intervention to reduce suicidal behaviour

Professor Rory O’Connor from Glasgow University has been conducting research into suicide and self-harm for over 20 years. In 2019 he completed an MQ-funded project that supported people who have experienced suicidal feelings.
Rory's project was trialling a US concept of ‘Safety Intervention Planning with Follow up Telephone Contact (SAFE TEL)’ which aims to reduce suicide attempts, for use in the UK.
The safety plan is a prioritised list – written in the patient’s own words – identifying warning signs, coping strategies and supporting mechanisms when feeling suicidal. The list, written in the hospital when the person who has suicidal feelings, aims to increase their sense of self-control over suicidal urges and thoughts. This is backed up by weekly follow-up telephone sessions with the person after they are discharged.

At the moment hospitals have no evidence-based effective treatments to reduce the risk of suicide. This intervention aims to fill that gap. It has been tested in a three-phase feasibility study across four NHS Glasgow and Lothian hospitals, and the next step is to conduct a fully randomised controlled trial across different UK sites.

Identifying neural circuits involved in traumatic memories

Two-thirds of all people experience a traumatic event in their lifetime. That means traumatic memories are an issue for millions of people. In 2019, Professor Johannes Gräff completed his MQ-funded project looking at which brain cells and molecular mechanisms are involved in processing and recovering from long-lasting traumatic memories.

Based at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, Johannes and his team successfully identified the cells responsible for traumatic memory attenuation in three different brain areas, generating for the first time ever a brain-wide map of areas that are actively involved in rewriting traumatic memories. This is an important step in learning how people can move past these memories.


Using group support therapy to treat depression in people living with HIV in Northern Uganda

Dr Ethel Nakimuli-Mpungu is an MQ Fellow based at Makerere University College of Health Sciences in Uganda. In 2019 she completed a trial looking at group support therapy to treat depression in people living with HIV in northern Uganda.

The study looked at whether lay health workers could be trained to run group psychotherapy sessions to identify and respond to signs of depression while treating people with HIV, in some of the most remote communities in Uganda.

People living with HIV have high rates of depression, addiction, and post-traumatic stress. If these problems don't get treated, they can have severe public health consequences, including continuing HIV transmission and worse HIV treatment outcomes.

This MQ-funded project has led to further funding from the US National Institute for Health (NIH) and Child Relief International Foundation, as well as an application to the Gates Foundation, to test the intervention across more countries and age groups. The future for this treatment looks very exciting – it could potentially be used to reduce mental health problems across the African continent, and also to reduce rates of HIV transmission

Read more from Dr Ethel Nakimuli-Mpungu here, on why therapy must be culturally appropriate.

Help us fund more research that changes people's lives

Mental illness is one of the great challenges of our time: before March 2020, 1 in 4 people in the UK experienced a mental illness each year. With the impact of isolation, health anxiety, stress and economic downturn from COVID-19 becoming increasingly clear, safeguarding the UK’s mental health is now more important than ever.

Help us fund more research like this. With your support we can help improve the lives of people living with mental illness.

Last updated: 20 August 2020

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