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How to improve mental health in six steps

Rising costs and scientific advances mean inaction on mental health research is ‘no longer an option’ according to leading scientists in a study published in Lancet Psychiatry today. Just focusing on six priority areas would have a huge impact on care whilst cutting costs within 5-10 years.

The latest research suggests that in the UK mental and behavioural disorders cause at least 12 per cent of all disability and in contrast to other disorders is still increasing, that mental health has the single greatest impact on the UK’s workforce and the estimated social and economic cost in England alone is £105 billion per year. Yet despite all this, and the fact politicians have recently clamoured for change, mental health only receives 5.5 per cent of UK health research funding.

Over 1,000 scientists, patients, families and professional groups from across Europe came together in the largest ever study on how science can address the major challenge faced by mental health across Europe. The ROAMER project, published today, concludes with a roadmap for mental health research in Europe. Leading experts made the following call to politicians and UK and European funding organisations:

Targeted research investment will improve mental health within at least 10 years

Professor Josep Maria Haro (joint ROAMER lead) said: ‘The six research priorities set out in ROAMER address issues that can be resolved in the next 5 to 10 years given sufficient investment and research.’

Scientific advance over last 10 years make inaction no longer an option

Professor Til Wykes (joint ROAMER lead from King’s College London) said: ‘European governments should sit up and listen. Mental health disorders represent the greatest health burden inEurope but countries spend a fraction of what is needed on mental health research.  The impact of mental disorders is rising - now we have the science to bridge these gaps, funding mental health research will benefit everyone in the long run – in health and well-being, as well as financially.’

Genes – Professor Sir Michael Owen (Head of the Institute of Psychological Medicine and Clinical Neurosciences at Cardiff University) 'Recent advances in genomics, genome engineering, stem cell biology and neuroscience have identified a number of risk genes for psychiatric disorders which will enable scientists to develop new treatments.’  

Current UK research funding would need to at least treble 

Commenting on the study Cynthia Joyce CEO of mental health research charity MQ said ‘The current spend of £115m a year will need to increase through urgent Government prioritisation and more donations from the general public over the long-term.’

ROAMER analysed existing literature and research capacity in Europe and identified crucial gaps and the most pressing questions that need answering. Their paper calls for a coordinated strategy for mental health research, driven by large collaborative projects and underpinned by six priorities.

Priority 1: Preventing mental disorders, promoting mental health and focusing on young people

Example project: Long-term cohort studies looking at the determinants of mental health and well-being.

Why? Will let us identify risk and protective factors for mental disorders and mental health across the lifespan – especially in young people as many mental disorders develop early in life.

Outcome: Estimated returns of £1 investment could be as high as £10.27 (for early screening), £17.97 (for mental disorder prevention) or £83.73 (mental health promotion).

Priority 2: Focusing on causal mechanisms of mental disorders

Example project: Identification of factors underlying co-and multi-morbidity, extending research on single disorders to look at disorders that co-occur.

Why? Comorbidity is currently one of the largest hidden costs in healthcare – e.g. depression co-occurring with asthma currently increases healthcare costs by 140 per cent.

Outcome: Reduction (or elimination) of substantial healthcare costs associated with comorbidity (e.g. average extra cost of depression with another disorder is currently 17 per cent-46 per cent).

Priority 3: Setting up international collaborations and networks for mental health research

Example project: Establish access to European mental health databases across different studies with standardised mental health outcomes.

Why? Lots of similar studies are being conducted across Europe at any given time – but the lack of coordination of measures prevents us from pooling or sharing these data sets.

Outcome: More powerful datasets, and research that can be re-analysed by other groups (meaning that it becomes more and more cost-effective over time).  

Priority 4: Developing and implementing new and better interventions for mental health and well-being

Example project: Testing the value of internet-based treatments as automated versions of standard psychological treatments e.g. in primary care.

Why? The internet offers straightforward and extremely cost-effective ways of providing additional treatment that would make many interventions greatly more effective without large additional costs.

Outcome: More effective treatment, more treatment options and opportunities for self-management of conditions at low cost.

Priority 5: Reducing stigma and empowering service users and carers

Example project: Studying the role of stigma in the wider context of inequalities (health inequalities, etc.) and assessing the place of stigma in public services.

Why? Stigma and socio-economic inequalities are large contributors to disability burden for both individuals with mental health problems and carers but are typically not addressed by mental health care interventions. Negative effects of stigma and informal care currently places higher burdens on individuals and groups who are already disadvantaged (namely women).

Outcome: Reduction of substantial sources of disability and healthcare costs that currently impede effective implementations at present. 

Priority 6: Research into health and social systems

Example project: Investigating the impact of differences in the organisation and delivery of national healthcare systems on well-being of individuals with mental disorders and carers.

Why? This will let us see how different political decisions about health and social care across Europe have affected the health of individuals with mental health problems and their carers.

Outcome: Evidence-based policy on how health policies can be most effectively implemented.

Notes to editors

Paper reference: Wykes, T et al (2015) Mental health research priorities for Europe The Lancet Psychiatry

Find out more about ROAMER.

For further media information please contact Jack Stonebridge, Press Officer, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London on +44 (0) 20 7848 5377 or

For further information about King’s visit our ‘King’s in Brief’ page.