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Landmark MRC review of mental health research calls for change

28 May 2010

The Medical Research Council (MRC) is calling for a rethink in strategic funding of mental health research following a major six-month review, to which Profs Shitij Kapur, Peter McGuffin and Til Wykes, Institute of Psychiatry (IoP), King’s College London (KCL) contributed. The review was published online today and reported in the journal The Lancet.

The review undertaken by the MRC to advise the Government’s Office for Strategic Coordination of Health Research (OSCHR), aims to address the huge mismatch between the social and economic burden of mental health diseases on our society and the lower levels of investment and progress in research in this field.

The findings pick out priority areas, strengths and gaps in current research practice and focus on four key themes in mental health; severe mental illness (primarily psychosis); anxiety and depression (bipolar disorder is included in this theme); neurodevelopmental, learning and intellectual disabilities; and pathways to mental wellbeing.

Key recommendations to be addressed by the UK research community in the next 5-10 years set out the ambition to: focus on the prevention of mental disorders based on better understanding of causes, risk levels and new approaches to early preventive measures; accelerate research and development to provide new, more effective treatments for mental illness, and implement them more rapidly;  and expand the capacity for research in this area in the UK.

Til Wykes, Professor of Clinical Psychology and Rehabilitation, IoP KCL and Director of the Mental Health Research Network said: 'I welcome this thoughtful analysis which shows where research can make a real contribution to the understanding, prevention and treatment of mental health problems across all ages. The report highlights the strengths of UK research and how we can answer the important questions raised by patients and their families.'

Poor mental health is common and disabling, affecting 16.7 million people in the UK at any one time and accounting for 15 per cent of all the disability due to disease. A mental health problem is now the most common reason for someone claiming Incapacity Benefit. It is estimated to cost at least £77 billion annually in England alone, and severe forms of mental illness are associated with social exclusion and deprivation. Mental health problems frequently start in childhood and persist throughout the life course, affecting people at crucial stages of life: in the home, during school and through working life into old age.

Professor Chris Kennard, Chair of the MRC’s Neurosciences and Mental Health Board adds: 'We know it’s not easy to unravel the complex interplay of genetic, social and environmental influences that affect our mental wellbeing and lead to mental health disorders. More work must be done to translate current scientific advances in brain research to make progress in finding effective preventive, therapeutic and rehabilitative strategies. The UK is in a strong position to play a major role internationally in this area of research. With expertise already embedded in the UK and the increased research capacity we are proposing, we are well placed to achieve this. Mental health disorders are extremely common and have a devastating impact on individuals, their families and our society.  We hope that additional funding for research resulting from our review will enable UK researchers to address these problems more effectively and reduce the burden of mental health disorders.'

MRC will be working with key funding agencies such as the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) and the Health Departments of the devolved administrations on approaches to take forward these recommendations.

Read Professor Wykes' comments on the report in BBC Online's Scrubbing Up column:  http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/8711977.stm

The report can be viewed here: http://www.mrc.ac.uk/Newspublications/Publications/Research/index.htm

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