#MentalHealthResearchMatters. Does it? How? This was one of the many thoughts that raced through my head as the global Covid-19 pandemic became very real in the UK last week. As the leader of a mental health research charity, and a member of the UKRI networks co-ordination team, I set about talking to people I work with and others across the sector. How is the academic community responding? This is what I found out.
One of the immediate consequences was research teams moving to home working, and working out what social distancing means for data collection. The science we were carrying out last week is no longer possible. Baseline and follow-up data collection interviews (face to face) can’t happen. Some intervention studies will have to change what “treatment” participants receive so won’t be able to deliver as described in the protocol, thus “fidelity to model” will change. Research work in schools ceased on Friday. Government departments are issuing guidance in Wales, Scotland and England with clinical care being prioritised and researchers moving to support the rapid set-up of Covid-19 studies, as appropriate.
The social context in which mental health research studies are being conducted has changed. Will their findings still stand and be useful? Some will, others may be very much compromised.
We have also heard a call for evidence. The Science Media Centre put out a call to the academic community to assist journalists, policy makers and broadcast media when reporting on mental health issues. Millions of people self-isolating makes this a central theme. Do the research community have relevant information they can usefully share? I think we will have more evidence synthesis and opinions shared in the coming weeks.
It is also important to consider what we mean by “evidence”. Does experiential evidence count? That which is based on the lived experience of people with mental health issues? This expertise from experience should be as much part of the evidence base as the clinical and academic experience of clinicians and researchers. McPin and the coordination team will be looking to get involved in work that explores this more over the coming weeks, as we collectively contribute to conversations that seek to support communities and individuals.
We have started to hear calls for more mental health research to be developed – such as from the charity MQ. An important question is what mental health research will we need to help communities cope in the short, medium and long term? At McPin, we are keen that any rapid responses being planned do involve the community – again, drawing on expertise from experience. There are studies being planned as I write this. One is an online study at University College London exploring the mental health impact of the current crisis. It is a longitudinal online study asking people weekly for information on mental health, loneliness, isolation, health behaviours and protective behaviours. Another involves McPin and researchers at Kings College London to discover the issues that people with mental health problems are facing over this period.
The new priorities
We are keen to hear from researchers who, in response to Covid-19, are planning different work. What are the new mental health research priorities?
Some funders are continuing as planned with current commissions and new work. Wellcome are commissioning rapid evidence reviews of core components for interventions addressing depression and anxiety. They should deliver by September, which will be very timely. The MRC Developing Mind call will be out shortly (focusing on adolescence, mental health and the developing mind) in time for their planned launch of 30th March. Will there be rapid-response mode funding calls too? Last month, UKRI announced a £20m rapid response call for novel coronavirus research (and mental health research was eligible), so more calls like this must be a possibility.
Next week, we hope to share more thoughts from the UKRI mental health research networks. What does mental health research leadership look like during Covid-19? How do we best contribute as a mental health research community? There is much we could write. And we will do again next week.
Help us by joining this conversation and sharing your thoughts on how we can best contribute: #MentalHealthResearchMatters.