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UK Biobank gives unparalleled potential for future biomedical research in mental health


Until now, UK Biobank, a health data resource aiming to help scientists discover why some people develop particular diseases and others do not, had limited mental health data to work with. Following 157,366 responses to an online mental health questionnaire (MHQ) developed by researchers from King’s College London, alongside collaborators from across the UK, it now has unparalleled potential for further biomedical research in mental health, dramatically expanding potential research into mental disorders. 

Professor Matthew Hotopf, Director of the NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Centre, who chaired the expert working group said,

‘Our study suggests that UK Biobank could be a powerful tool for mental health research, and since it is open to all health researchers for work in the public good, we hope to inspire both existing and new users of UK Biobank.

Our mental health questionnaire demonstrates the substantial burden of mental disorders. Given the known impact of mental health on physical health, mental health data should interest researchers from every biomedical specialty looking at associations with health and disease.’

Access to this data will give researchers the opportunity to look at whether, for example, depression is one illness or lots of different related illnesses.

An expert working group designed the questionnaire to capture enough data to characterise participants as having a lifetime history of depression and other phenotypes.

The researchers worked with a service user advisory group at the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust in designing the questionnaire and invitation to participants.

The questionnaire also underwent larger-scale piloting in 13,000 volunteers aged 50 years or older who had signed up to the PROTECT study on cognitive ageing. The implementation of this questionnaire demonstrates that a web-based questionnaire is an acceptable means of collecting mental health information at low cost and large scale.

UK Biobank is a major national and international health resource with the aim of improving the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of serious and life-threatening illnesses. It collects and studies health information provided by people over the age of 45 with a view to improving the health of future generations. To gain access to the resource, scientists must first register with UK Biobank and submit a research proposal.

The findings have been published today in BJPsych Open.

This paper represents independent research funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London. The MHQ was developed and administered with UK Biobank funding. 

Notes to Editors

Mental Health in UK Biobank – development, implementation and results from an online questionnaire completed by 157,366 participants published in BJPsych Open on Tuesday 3 April 2018

To arrange an interview with the researchers, please contact: Alex Booth, Communications and Engagement Manager, NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London. and 020 7848 0495.

The UK Biobank MHQ respondents were aged 40-69 years when they joined UK Biobank between 2006- 2010.

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR): improving the health and wealth of the nation through research. Established by the Department of Health and Social Care, the NIHR:

  • funds high quality research to improve health
  • trains and supports health researchers
  • provides world-class research facilities
  • works with the life sciences industry and charities to benefit all
  • involves patients and the public at every step.

For further information, visit the NIHR website

About UK Biobank

UK Biobank is a national and international health resource with unparalleled research opportunities, open to all bona fide health researchers. UK Biobank aims to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of serious and life-threatening illnesses – including cancer, heart diseases, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, eye disorders, depression and forms of dementia. It is following the health and well-being of 500,000 volunteer participants and provides health information, which does not identify them, to approved researchers in the UK and overseas, from academia and industry.