Transforming the landscape of UK mental health research

What do archaeologists, dentists and historians have in common? Although these may seem like unrelated disciplines, people from all of these backgrounds are involved with mental health research. Archaeologists are collaborating with psychologists and military veterans to understand the potential wellbeing benefits of archaeological digs. Dentists and statisticians are exploring links between oral and mental health problems, and historical perspectives are helping to shape how we define loneliness. These are just a few examples of exciting work spanning disciplinary boundaries happening across the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) funded mental health research networks.

People from all backgrounds have a crucial role to play if we are to work together to understand and learn how to make a difference to all people affected by mental health problems.

And it’s not just new types of researchers that need to be invited to the party. For too long, we have relied on academics talking to other academics to make progress. This is just one form of expertise. We need to actively involve people with personal experience of mental health problems, and work in step with them to draw on the wealth of expertise by experience they have to offer. Practitioners, charities, businesses, policy makers and community representatives also have a role to play if we are to make a difference to all people affected by mental health problems

This is why I am truly excited by the networks’ innovative approach to fundamentally changing the way that mental health research is conducted in this country. Rather than researchers and community groups working independently on small pieces of the puzzle, our vision is to bring diverse voices and perspectives together to create a genuine change in the landscape of mental health research.

Jigsaw pieces
The research networks are bringing together people with multiple forms of expertise to work together on essential pieces of the research puzzle.

My role as the UKRI Mental Health Networks Impact & Engagement Coordinator is to facilitate these networks to work as collaboratively as possible, to maximize the impact of their work, and to engage the general public and researchers with the importance, and the potential, of this innovative fresh approach to mental health research.

To make this happen, I have gathered together a wonderful team. Joining me are Vanessa Pinfold, co-founder of the McPin Foundation whose passion is to ensure that people with lived experience of mental health problems are at the heart of the research agenda. Research is done best, she believes, when it involves people with relevant personal experience.

André Tomlin and Douglas Badenoch established The Mental Elf , a trusted source of accessible and reliable evidence on the latest mental health research.  They are supporting the digital and social media impact of the networks’ research.

Sallyann Keizer and Sixth Sense Media are helping us to produce ground-breaking creative digital content to maximize the social impact of the work of the networks.

Also joining the team is Sam Parsons, a postdoctoral psychology researcher who works with me at the University of Oxford.  Sam is passionate about open science practices, such as ensuring that research materials and data are freely accessible to all, in addition to helping to create innovative opportunities for early career researchers in the developing field of mental health science.

Our Peer Impact and Engagement Officer is Zoë Catchpole, a graduate in biochemistry who is determined to ensure that involving expertise from lived-experience becomes commonplace in mental health research.

The coordination team are already getting stuck in by attending network events. It has been great to meet such a range of people at these events, and it is humbling to see these welcoming research homes in action. Thanks to these events allowing diverse voices to come together, we are starting to put together some of the essential pieces of the puzzle to begin to shed light on the bigger picture.

Light and flowers
Our vision is to bring diverse voices and perspectives together to create a genuine change in the landscape of mental health research.

It is a privilege for me to work alongside such an inspiring group of people and we are all incredibly excited about supporting the UKRI mental health networks to facilitate as much collaboration and innovation as possible.  Through showcasing the work of the networks, we are also hoping to kick-start a national conversation on why Mental Health Research Matters.

With the Wellcome Trust’s new vision to see a “world in which no one is held back by mental health problems” backed up by a £200 million investment, MQ’s commitment to create a world where “mental illness is understood, effectively treated, and ultimately prevented”, alongside the commitment made by UKRI to “strengthen cross-disciplinary research for mental health”, these are truly exciting times to be involved in mental health research.

I would encourage all of you, whatever your background, to have a look at the mental health networks websites and get involved! Events and funding opportunities are taking place all across the UK.

Let’s all work together on this and really make a difference to people’s lives.

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