Research Council collaboration: how could a new strategy improve mental health research?
The UK’s seven Research Councils recently announced they will collaborating to take on the major challenges in mental health with an interdisciplinary approach to research. This new agenda also proposes a key role for technology and data in driving insights from cross-disciplinary work. We hear from Cynthia Joyce, the CEO at MQ: Transforming Mental Health (a mental health research charity) about the opportunities this presents.
Why does this news from the Research Councils excite you?
It is wonderful to see the Research Councils of the UK join up their approaches to funding mental health research. We know that it takes more than a strong NHS to help people living with mental illness get ahead in life. Finding better treatments that work more effectively for people, having good health and social care, proactive school and workplace interventions and healthier neighbourhoods all contribute to better mental health – and our progress in these areas is research-driven.
The Research Councils are taking an interdisciplinary approach – What do you hope the collaboration achieves for mental health?
I have several hopes for this collaboration: one is that a joined-up approach to funding will encourage researchers to expand their thinking to develop new ideas to improve the lives of people facing mental illness. Secondly, I hope it will help make research itself more efficient – sharing information in a meaningful way can accelerate progress in so many ways – and save money. Thirdly, we hope that this interdisciplinary work will integrate mental health with physical health so that we can take a more holistic approach to treatment and prevention than ever seen before.
What are the most effective ways to get scientists working in different disciplines to collaborate? Are MQ doing anything to promote interdisciplinary study?
Researchers need to talk with each other more! And use data wisely – pools of existing data can be shared, linked, and otherwise analysed to gain new insights into mental health conditions and this activity is so very important to transforming mental health. Research funders have an important role in facilitating a shared approach in the use of data and to the research process overall.
Interdisciplinary research is a core element of MQ’s new Brighter Futures programme focused on adolescent depression and suicide. Scientists working all over the world are accessing a multitude of factors that put young people at risk of depression and suicidal behaviours – from understanding what brain scans can tell us to looking at social factors like bullying. By incorporating and analysing a range of diverse data sources, we hope the projects will enable us to create tools that can help healthcare professionals identify adolescents at risk so we can intervene early and change lives.
What do you think are the biggest barriers to breakthroughs when researching mental health?
The Research Councils are tackling one of the biggest barriers already with their interdisciplinary approach. Research silos have been incredibly detrimental to progress – so this new initiative is critical. Similarly, we need a smooth, clear pathway from research to the clinic with strong, productive relationships between science and healthcare. Technological advances in the lab and in our everyday life (like smartphones) are critically important to our ability to understand brain and behaviour – these advances should be harnessed as quickly as possible to solve mental health challenges.