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IoPPN researchers awarded over £2m to lead new mental health networks

Howard Oram Byrom 430x275

(Professor Louise Howard, Dr Sian Oram and Dr Nicola Byrom)

Researchers from the Institute of Psychology, Psychiatry & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London have been awarded over £2 million in funding to lead two new Mental Health Networks. The networks are two of eight Mental Health Networks announced today by UK Research and Innovation.

Dr Nicola Byrom will lead the Student Mental Health Research Network (SMaRteN) and Professor Louise Howard and Dr Sian Oram will jointly lead a network on Violence, Abuse and Mental Health: Opportunities for Change.

These innovative networks will aim to tackle the increasing challenges of poor mental health in modern society by giving people with lived experience of mental health problems a role in shaping and carrying out research. The networks will foster collaboration by bringing together academics, practitioners, charities, service users and other organisations.

Dr Byrom and her cross-disciplinary team will address the high rates of mental distress among the student population. Reports suggest that the mental wellbeing of students may be among the lowest across the whole population. However, a lack of strong data on student mental health is a barrier to putting evidence-based solutions in place.

This network will put the student voice at the centre of new research by recruiting a student-led research team to identify high-priority research questions and act as an equal partner in decision-making. The network will run workshops, events and student-led conferences as well as distributing £400,000 in small research funding awards. Most importantly, the network will work closely with institutions across the higher education sector to implement changes for improving student mental health.

Dr Byrom, who is a Lecturer in Psychology at IoPPN commented: "This network will bring together researchers with expertise in diverse academic disciplines and stakeholders from across the higher education sector, to focus efforts to understand why levels of mental distress are rising among the student population and how to reverse this trend. I am excited to have the opportunity to work with students throughout the project, to fully embed the student voice in all of our work." 

The network jointly led by Professor Howard and Dr Oram will address a common, but often unspoken, cause of mental distress – domestic and sexual violence and abuse. Witnessing or experiencing domestic and sexual violence or abuse in childhood or adulthood is associated with the development of mental health problems, yet evidence on how to reduce the risk of developing and treating a mental health problem after experiencing violence or abuse is limited.

Research priorities for this network will be co-produced by people who have lived experience of violence and mental health problems. The network will have a strong emphasis on cross-disciplinary and interactive events, such as policy labs to inform the network of evidence gaps, workshops to develop new ideas on interventions, and public lectures to enhance collaboration and learning. More than £300,000 will be awarded by the network to small and pilot research studies, and Professor Howard will lead an international commission on violence, abuse and mental health with The Lancet Psychiatry, to ensure the network's recommendations for future research, practice, and policy impact on the wider field of psychiatry.

Professor Howard, Professor of Women's Mental Health at the IoPPN, commented: “In developing this network we have been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of so many different stakeholders for a network focused on domestic and sexual violence and mental health. Many survivors of violence and abuse have mental health problems but there has been relatively little research funded previously on the links between domestic and sexual violence, and mental health.”

Dr Oram, Lecturer in Women's Mental Health at the IoPPN, commented: “This network will raise the profile of domestic and sexual violence as key issues in mental health research, services, and in society.  Vital to this will be the development and support of an interdisciplinary community of early career researchers and a network of people with lived experience who are well-positioned to consult upon, participate in, and lead new research”.

The Student Mental Health Research Network includes researchers from King's College London, the National Centre for Social Research, the University of Oxford, the University of Sheffield, the Behavioural Insights Team, The McPin Foundation, the University of Warwick, Northumbria University, Birkbeck College, The Office of Health Economics, Student Minds and City, University of London.

For further information please visit:  SMaRteN.

The network on Violence, Abuse and Mental Health: Opportunities for Change includes researchers from King's College London, Lancaster University, the University of Warwick, UCL, St George’s University of London and the University of Oxford.

For further information please visit: KCL Women’s Mental Health


Robin Bisson, Senior Press Officer, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London, / +44 20 7848 5377 / +44 7718 697176.

News story by Anna McLaughlin, editing by Robin Bisson.