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28 March 2024

New £7M research investment to investigate population-based improvement of mental health

£7 million funding from UK Research and Innovation, has been awarded to lead partner King’s College London to establish a research theme in Population Mental Health, as part of a new national research network Population Health Improvement UK (PHI-UK).

Crowd in London

The aim of Population Health Improvement UK is to find innovative and inclusive ways to improve the health of people, places and communities and reduce health inequalities through the development and evaluation of long-lasting and environmentally sustainable interventions.

Population Mental Health

Population Mental Health is one of four initial research themes in the network. These themes are operationalised through investments in research clusters that bring together universities, government organisations, voluntary organisations and community partnerships, across the UK.

King’s College London (Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience) and Thrive LDN are co-directors of this interdisciplinary research theme which aims to understand, identify and affect real-world policy change, to better address population-based improvement of mental health in the UK.

The other three themes in PHI-UK are Healthy Urban Places, Commercial Determinants of Health & Equity, and Enhancing Policy Modelling.

This is an exciting initiative to tackle a growing need to address public mental health challenges facing the UK today. We will strengthen our partnerships across local government, public health, voluntary organisations and universities across the UK. We will work with our stakeholders and people with lived experience, to harness large-scale data, to understand which population interventions hold the greatest promise, leading to good mental health for all.

Principal Investigator and theme Director Dr Jayati Das-Munshi, from the IoPPN and the ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health, King’s College London

Meeting three key challenges

Research in the PHI-UK Population Mental Health theme is underpinned by three challenge areas: children and young people’s mental health, prevention of suicide and self-harm, and multiple long term health conditions, with a central focus on tackling mental health inequalities.

The theme will broker exciting new collaborations across the country, including teams from University College London, Swansea University, Ulster University, Forward Thinking Birmingham, and Middlesex University. Beyond academia, it will build partnerships across government, public sector agencies, voluntary organisations, and people with lived experience. It will inform meaningful, practical changes which will have broad scale benefits in future policy making and the lives of those living with mental health problems at local, regional and national levels.

This collaboration has the potential to make long lasting improvements to how people, organisations, academics and systems work together to improve mental health. People with lived experience of mental health should be front and centre when it comes to developing solutions and interventions to ensure we see genuine improvements.

Dan Barrett, Co-Investigator and Director of Thrive LDN

He continued: “Thrive LDN exists because our communities are working with the system to improve the mental health of individuals. We should continue to celebrate and highlight the work they’re doing to support themselves and to build strength and resilience for the future. We know this is not unique to London, so the opportunity to work at a national level, combining our rich expertise with our lived experience is a privilege and one we must use to make real and lasting improvements in mental health.”

Connections and partnerships

The project has strong links to national bodies (Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID), Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH), The Mental Health Foundation, Centre for Mental Health, NHS Race and Health Observatory) across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, ensuring integrated cross-national and regional policy impact of the research.

Professor Gerard Leavey, Co-investigator for the award and Director Bamford Centre for Mental Health & Wellbeing, Ulster University said: "We are delighted to contribute to this ambitious and imaginative project that brings together academics, communities, public health agencies, and experts by experience in order to improve mental health and prevent mental illness. We look forward to working with colleagues across the UK to achieve this."

Professor James Kirkbride, Co-investigator for the award and Professor of Psychiatric and Social Epidemiology in the Division of Psychiatry, UCL said: "This vital investment from the UKRI recognises that to improve the mental health of the nation we require new, innovative and interdisciplinary solutions that take a public health approach to understanding and preventing inequalities in experiencing poor mental health. This initiative brings together stakeholders with diverse expertise and from different backgrounds who are unified by this vision."

The establishment of PHI-UK is an important step for UKRI as it enables multi-disciplinary research across the UK aimed at improving health and reducing inequalities. Our intention is to develop PHI-UK as a growing, dynamic and integrated national community of population health researchers, developing new themes and connecting the network to existing strengths in the UK.

Professor Nick Wareham, newly appointed Director of the Population Health Improvement UK (PHI-UK) network

In this story

Jayati Das-Munshi

Clinical Reader

Matthew Hotopf

Executive Dean, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience

Stephani Hatch

Vice Dean for Culture, Diversity & Inclusion

Sharon Stevelink

Reader in Epidemiology

Rebecca Rhead

Lecturer in Society and Mental Health

Rina Dutta

Reader in Suicidology and Psychiatry

Tassia Oswald

Research Associate

Alex Dregan

Senior Lecturer in Psychiatric Epidemiology

Johnny Downs

Senior Clinical Lecturer (Honorary Consultant) in Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

Peter  Schofield

Senior Lecturer in Population Health

Kalwant Sidhu

Reader in Public Health Education