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New report reveals huge gaps in mental health research funding

We’ve just published our second ‘UK Mental Health Research Funding’ report, which sets out the latest data on exactly how much money has been invested in mental health research– and where it’s spent. 

The report, accompanied by a new paper in The Lancet Psychiatry, shows that chronic underfunding has led to mental health research receiving 25 times less funding, per person affected, than physical conditions such as cancer. This equates to £9 spent on research per person affected by mental illness – while £228 is spent on research per person affected by cancer. And, although awareness of mental health is increasing, money being ploughed into research has remained flat over the last 10 years in real terms.

Furthermore, donations from the public account for just 2.7% of mental health research funding – which, compared to other conditions, is very low. In cancer research, spending by fundraising charities makes up 68% of funding. In cardiovascular disease it is 41% and in dementia it’s 28%.

The study also reveals worrying gaps in current funding – with only 5% of a modest overall budget being spent of the development of new treatments.

Sophie Dix, our Director of Research, said: “We need research to work for people living with a mental illness. Advances are being made across the field of mental health research, however, gaps in investment are preventing a clear pathway to patient impact. It’s vital we come together and ensure that all research can reach those affected. Research can transform what it means to experience mental illness, starting now and for every generation to come.”

This report highlights the scale of the task ahead and MQ is committed to using it to continue building public support for research and to inspire increased coordination between public research funders, universities, charities and the wider voluntary sector.

Taking forward the work of the recently published 10 Year Framework for Mental Health Research, MQ is co-ordinating the Mental Health Research Funders Group, which includes the Department of Health and Social Care, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the Medical Research Council (MRC), the Wellcome Trust, and Mental Health Research UK. The group will adopt a strategic approach to mapping current mental health research investments in order to identify future gaps and opportunities for research.

Professor Chris Whitty, NIHR lead and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department of Health and Social Care, said: "As leader of the NIHR - the nation’s largest funder of mental health research - I welcome MQ's call for broad, sustained investment. NIHR is building partnerships across government, the funding community, researchers and the voluntary sector, in order to deliver the Government’s ambition of parity between mental and physical health."  

Dr Andrew Welchman, Wellcome’s Head of Neuroscience and Mental Health, said: “As this report shows, too many people are still left without effective treatments and we need to invest to meet this challenge. The increased focus on mental health by the public and politicians is great progress, but talking alone is not enough. We need to develop and improve treatments and get these to the people who need them.

“Science is essential to advancing mental health, which is why Wellcome is committing £200 million for mental health research over the next five years to drive the field forward. To take on this huge challenge, we need broad expertise, with researchers from different backgrounds and experiences, and different countries, working alongside individual’s with personal experience, governments, businesses and wider society.”

Click here to read the full UK Mental Health Research Funding 2014-2017 report, or the methodology paper in The Lancet Psychiatry.

This report was developed using resources from the Milto Goulandris Mental Health Intelligence Library.

Last updated: 27 February 2019

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