Guest post by Professor Chris Whitty CB FMedSci, Chief Scientific Adviser for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for England and Head of the NIHR.
Mental health research is essential, and has made considerable progress, but arguably more slowly than many other areas of health. To go further it is essential we have a shared view of the challenges and priorities for mental health research which can be used by all those involved in mental health, and research funding bodies. These mental health research goals are the outcome of a collective approach across the mental health research community including people living with mental health problems, funders of mental health research, academics and clinicians, and show the areas where we need to focus our efforts and attention in mental health over the next ten years. They have been endorsed by key research funders.
Mental health research is important in both driving innovation in current mental health care and in bringing hope for the future. Research improves our understanding of the causes and risk factors for mental health problems, supports promotion and prevention initiatives helping people to stay well, underpins the development and evaluation of new forms of support and provides evidence on how innovative approaches can be put into practice in the healthcare system and in wider settings.
We need research that improves the mental health of children and young people; furthers our understanding of the links between physical and mental health; develops and improves the support and interventions we can offer; and ensures we can provide access and choice to good mental health care in a range of appropriate and accessible settings. Mental health isn’t just a healthcare issue: understanding the wider social and economic context is critical to reducing how mental health is viewed and inequalities are tackled.
The current pandemic has had an impact on mental as well as physical health and has served to further highlight how important it is that we focus on mental health, whether as service users, as Covid-19 patients or simply in our day to day life, and at a population level.
We must accelerate improvements in care by continuing to increase the breadth of effective resources, implementing what we know works for whom, in what context and why - ensuring that we meet the needs of our entire community, from the very young to the very old. People with lived experience need to be at the heart of all our research endeavours, shaping what research is commissioned, how research is undertaken and broadening dissemination of research beyond traditional academic boundaries.
These goals have had a long gestation and are the result of early input from a broad range of people across the mental health community and I would like to extend my thanks to everyone who has contributed. Throughout the process, and latterly, the work has been predominantly led by Professors Dame Til Wykes DBE FMedSci, Professor Peter Jones FMedSci and Professor Cathy Creswell. I would like to thank these three colleagues and many other contributors for their tireless work.
*** In May 2021, Dame Til, Professor Jones, Professor Creswell and others published an article on the Mental Health Research goals in the Journal of Mental Health - Shared goals for mental health research: what, why and when for the 2020s. ***