Based at King’s, the new Centre will develop policies and practices for creating mentally healthy environments.
Mental health is a priority for governments and policy makers. Mental health problems affect one in four people and cost an estimated £90bn per year in the UK alone. Their onset and persistence are strongly influenced by social conditions, relationships, and experience. Current evidence suggests mental health problems are rising among some groups of young people and in disadvantaged communities.
The new £8 million interdisciplinary research Centre has been awarded funding by the Economic and Social Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), for its first five years. Researchers will work together with clinicians, policymakers, users of mental health services and communities experiencing poor mental health to better understand these social dimensions and build effective policies to tackle them.
The Centre will address questions in three key areas where there is the greatest need:
- Young people - what impact have recent social and economic changes, from the rise of social media to the growth of precarious employment, had on the mental health of young people?
- Marginalised communities - what impact have recent social and economic changes, such as prolonged austerity, had on the mental health of disadvantaged communities, including black and minority ethnic?
- Work and welfare - what impact have widespread welfare reforms had on mental health, and what welfare policies might better promote mental health?
Centre Co-Director Professor Craig Morgan, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, said: "Our Centre will address one of the major challenges of our times: what are the effects of rapid social change on mental health, particularly among the most disadvantaged? The factors that drive good and poor mental health lie in our communities, schools, and workplaces. Mental health problems develop across the life course and are more common among those who experience adversity. Our sustained and long-term research will help develop social policies and practices for creating environments that support mental health and give people the best chance of leading healthy, productive lives."
Centre Co-Director Professor Nikolas Rose, from the Faculty of Social Science & Public Policy, said: "If we are really to understand what drives so many to mental ill health and what can support and sustain mental health, we need research that focuses on the experience of those living stressful lives - children in schools, employees in contemporary work places, families and communities in marginal and precarious situations, and the many who experience loneliness at the heart of our cities. We need to involve them in understanding how we can build mental health friendly practices across society, and in developing policies for the ways we plan our cities and sustain resilient communities."
All the research in this Centre will be developed in collaboration with mental health service users, government departments, local authorities, schools, policy makers and charities. This will ensure that changes are practicable and directed where they will have most impact. Collaborations with research institutions across the UK, Europe and North America will enable the Centre to build upon and help develop best practice nationally and internationally.
Professor Frans Berkhout, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Social Science and Public Policy, said: “This unique, interdisciplinary Centre has the potential to transform our understanding of how social factors shape our mental health and will provide us with the robust evidence we need to build healthier, more mentally resilient communities for the future.”
Professor Ian Everall, Executive Dean of the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, said: "There could not be a more important time to invest in research on how social and economic factors affect mental wellbeing. We need to take a long-term approach to deepen social research on mental health and work towards realistic policies and practices that can change lives for the better."