Comment piece: New mental health research charity springs from an unlikely quarter #mentalhealth

It has been in the works for a not inconsiderable amount of time.  A slow burner if you like.  So it somehow seems fitting that the first flames should flicker almost unnoticed.

Yesterday, Research Fortnight’s Adam Smith wrote about a new mental health research charity to be launched next year with a hefty £20 million kick-start from the Wellcome Trust.  It’s working title is ‘Insight: Research for Mental Health.’ But  it’s new CEO, Cynthia Joyce, is quoted as saying it is likely to have a different name by the time it hits our high streets.

This is a typically bold strategic move by our largest research charity.  Who would have thought that the Wellcome Trust would one day decide to pump-prime a new charity whose business model will depend on traditional public fundraising?  I suspect that the Trust will have concluded that this is the best route to making an all-round contribution in the area.  For instance, adopting this model is more likely to help raise awareness and de-stigmatise mental health issues than if they had gone the way of a traditional grants programme.

However it is also a strategically important one in terms of the UK’s international standing in mental health research.  For it begins to correct two long-term issues in the field: the need for a stronger and more diverse funding stream and; the lack of a major charity funder that is prepared to both support research as well as advocate for funds and encourage other funders to work alongside it .

There is no doubt that these systemic issues have held us back.  You only have to look at the figures produced by the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) as part of their latest annual review to see how far mental health lags behind many other conditions in funding from UK research charities despite its human cost and the cost to the nation.

For whatever reason, there has been a collective oversight if not reluctance by mental health charities to pro-actively grasp the research agenda notwithstanding a few valiant efforts to change this.  The work of Mental Health Research UK and the Mental Health Foundation are of particular note in this regard.  Overall though, it has been difficult to turn a general acceptance of the need to do more into some sort of positive action, as I found when I was at AMRC.

What has happened in the past no longer deserves our attention.  It is what happens next that matters.

Above all, those who are doing the work – such as our excellent Mental Health Research Network (MHRN) – will be looking to all funders to think and act collaboratively.  Existing charities with their immense knowledge and experience of mental health issues and the needs of their community must act as good hosts.  But the new kid on the block must also act the part of the good guest who brings something different to the part but also has much to learn.   That includes the urgent need to research quality if life issues as much as take forward biomedical research. At least Cynthia Joyce would seem to be making the right sort of noises in yesterday’s piece.

We shall see.

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