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Funding gap in mental health research leaving generations of young people in the dark

  • Mental health research funding just £8 per person affected – 22 times less than the equivalent for cancer – 14 times less than dementia
  • Only ¼ of young people referred to services are receiving appropriate mental health care
  • 49% of young people believe someone their age would worry that a mental illness diagnosis means never getting better.

A shortfall in mental health research funding is leaving a generation of young people without effective care and is holding back efforts to tackle mental illnesses, our new research has found.

For a long time mental health research has lagged behind other conditions, with just £8 spent on research per person affected. The level of funding is currently 22 times less than the investment into cancer research (£178 per person) and 14 times less than dementia (£110 per person). 

Despite the fact that 75% of mental illness starts by the age of 18, less than 30% (£26 million a year) of the total mental health research spend is put towards children and young people’s studies in particular.

The lack of investment in children’s mental health means that very little is known about the cause of mental illness and therefore what treatments are most effective, or what could be done to prevent it from having a negative impact on people’s lives. 

As a result, the majority of mental healthcare resources are not designed and developed for young people, seeing poorer treatment outcomes in young people.

The volume of children and young people impacted by this is significant; approximately three children in every class room will have a diagnosable mental illness, affecting 3.2 million young people in total. Despite this, it takes an average of ten years between experiencing their first symptoms and getting help, with only a quarter of young people referred to services receiving appropriate care.

Additional research we carried out reveal the concerns that young people have about mental illness, with 49%[1] saying that if somebody their own age were to develop a condition, they would worry that they would never get better.

Alienation and social perceptions are also a concern for those surveyed: over half of children and young people think that if a peer were to develop a condition they would be treated differently (56%), lose friends (55%) and feel embarrassed (51%)[2].

Today we’re launching a major new research programme to provide overdue, long-term solutions for the ever increasing issue of young people’s mental health.

With the goal of redressing the balance of investment priorities, we’re bringing together leading scientists in an innovative world-class consortium to better understand how mental illness develops, identify those who are most at risk, develop effective interventions, and ensure they are implemented. 

Cynthia Joyce, our Chief Executive, said: “We can no longer accept the status quo in mental health. Radical change is needed. If we don’t take action now, this imbalanced situation will continue to let down millions of children and young people.

“Through research, we’ve seen extraordinary advances in healthcare that were once unimaginable. We need to be just as ambitious about mental health, and implement long-term action. 

“At MQ, we believe research is the key to making sure that young people affected by mental illness get the help they need, and the growing crisis of young people’s mental health is tackled once and for all.”

It’s time to make young people’s mental health a priority. Find out more about our research programme, and join us in swearing to tackle mental illness in young people.

[1] YouGov/MQ and Forster: Mental illness research: children, April 2016

[2] YouGov/MQ and Forster: Mental illness research: children, April 2016

Last updated: 15 May 2019

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