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Our Centre's vision is to develop research to promote and sustain good mental health in communities.

We bring together a unique mix of disciplines and expertise to conduct innovative social science research on the impact of rapid social change in mental health.

Our Centre will improve our understanding of the complex interrelationships between society and mental health, create platforms enabling new collaborations between disciplines and with societal partners, and work closely with users, communities, practitioners, and policy makers to design and assess novel evidence-based strategies for prevention and intervention. 

In realising this vision, we aim to shift public debate about mental health away from a focus on individualised interventions, towards social practices and policies that promote and sustain good mental health in communities.

This Centre is a collaboration between the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, and the Faculty of Social Science and Public Policy, in partnership with the University of Manchester (UK), University College London (UK), Mannheim University (Germany), McGill University (Canada), and Indiana University (USA), and with community organisations, user groups, and charities. 

It is central to our ethos that research and other outputs are co-produced with mental health service users and affected communities and groups. 

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The aim of our Centre is to:

- Ensure that the impact of social context is central to how we think about, and understand, mental health.

- Produce innovative research that underpins and informs new initiatives.

- Work entirely in partnership with affected communities and groups.

- Train the next generation of world leading researchers.

- Uncover knowledge that will underpin new policies. We want to help support communities that have generated neighbourhood-level practices to promote resilience and mental wellbeing.

In high-income countries, mental health problems have become more common in recent decades, particularly among adolescents and marginalised groups and communities. These trends occur against a background of multiple rapid and far-reaching changes that have transformed many aspects of personal, social, and economic life, including the nature of childhood and families, interpersonal relationships (especially with the emergence and rapid expansion of social media), education and training, neighbourhoods and communities, work and employment, and welfare policies.

What we know and what we don’t know:

- Many of the factors that promote mental health or lead to poor mental health are intrinsically social. They lie in our societies, schools, workplaces, communities, and the way we live our lives. But we don’t know how these different dimensions actually affect mental health, and this hampers our ability to develop effective policies.

- The impact of inequalities and difficult experiences on mental health differ by social group and vary geographically. To date, these aspects have not been given as much attention as they need to understand their impact on mental health. Because of this, we don’t know enough about how to reduce inequalities in mental health.

- The path to good mental health for all lies in the way our society is organised. Social, employment and welfare policies need to be shaped in the light of an understanding of their effect on mental health.

- We are living through a period of rapid and far-reaching change in our environments and social lives. We are seeing significant developments in technology and changes in education, work and welfare policies. Through understanding the impact of these changes we can decide how, and by what means, their effects on mental health might be minimised.

Researchers in our Centre work in partnership with those groups most affected to bring these issues to the fore, in order to ensure that Governments and policy makers recognise that there are social dimensions to mental health problems. It is through changes in social and welfare policies, and addressing the root causes, that we will have far-reaching positive effects on mental health.

The COVID 19 Pandemic is amplifying and exacerbating these social determinants of mental distress, and our immediate priority is to focus on these.

Our research focuses on three areas where social, cultural and economic changes have created substantial challenges for mental health:

- Young People: What impact have recent social and economic changes, from the rise of social media to the growth of insecure employment, had on the mental health of young people?

- Communities: What impact have recent social and economic changes, such as prolonged austerity, had on the mental health of disadvantaged and marginalised communities, including low income, black and minority ethnic, LGBTQ+, migrants and refugees?

- Work and Welfare: What impact have changes in the nature of work, together with widespread welfare reforms, had on mental health, and what employment and welfare policies might better promote mental health?

We work with those in all of these groups to identify the most pressing issues for research, and the best ways to research them.

Mental Health over the Life Course:

Mental health problems develop over time as a consequence of physical, interpersonal, cultural, and social factors.

Our research focuses in particular on mental health at times of social transitions (e.g. from childhood to adulthood; from education to employment).

For example, during developmental stages through childhood, adolescence and early adulthood, there is a greater risk that the effects of social changes on mental health will be amplified, with long-term consequences. For this reason, we have a keen focus on young people, especially amongst disadvantaged and marginalised populations.

Contexts of Mental Distress:

To understand the complex, multi-layered social experiences that shape the unfolding of mental health over time, we need to look beyond individual circumstances to the society surrounding us. We need to consider the nature of, and access to, social support, education, work, housing, neighbourhoods, and the ‘structural violence’ of discrimination, racism, and exclusion.

We focus on what can shape the lives of individuals and communities. On a broad level, we analyse the impact of globalisation, urbanisation and migration. We look at social policies like austerity and the welfare system, as well as cultural and technological changes, like the rise of social media.

Vulnerability and Resilience:

Social adversity does not inevitably lead to mental health problems or determine their severity and duration. Some individuals and groups are particularly vulnerable, whilst others seem resilient and able to cope despite hardship. Strategies for prevention need to be rooted in an understanding of why, when faced with similar difficulties, some people cope well and others do not. This perspective underpins our concern, in all our programmes, with identifying the social conditions, relationships and practices that exacerbate vulnerability or support resilience.