The world is witnessing a worrying rise in mental health disorders that are affecting both developed nations and low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). More young people, in particular, are experiencing emotional disorders such as anxiety and depression, and heightened levels of distress.
Despite growing mental health awareness, many experiencing mental ill-health do not receive the appropriate support. In LMICs, only 1 in 27 people can access adequate treatment for common mental illnesses, and this only rises to 1 in 5 in many high-income countries (WISH). In the UK specifically, there is a growing strain on mental health services and traditional sources of support. Mental health problems continue to be a heavy burden on the world economy and communities, impacting day to day living and work productivity.
Regardless of the increasing prevalence of mental ill-health, there are still knowledge gaps around who is experiencing mental ill-health and why, and how best to respond. Research and innovation in mental health should respond to the needs of the many people who aren’t currently accessing traditional services.
Support delivered digitally, for example, through a phone, has emerged as one potential solution to flexibly meet the growing mental health need and provide targeted support. In order to be effective, new innovations must be evidence-based, designed with those who will be using them, and properly evaluated for clinical impact.
Solutions should also take into account the number of changing factors in our societies that may harm or support mental health. From recognising how the role of the workplace, to understanding the role of social media or how climate change affects mental health, this area requires broad thinking.
Using our expertise in digital health and data science, we’re looking at ways to help fill in these knowledge gaps and drive evidence-based innovation, so we can transform understanding and treatment of mental health disorders.
We have a number of specialists skilled in areas such as data analytics, co-design, and patient and public engagement and involvement, who are building the evidence we need to underpin new strategies to better support mental health needs. It’s our goal to use these novel insights to develop and evaluate new digital innovations that could make a difference to people’s lives and alleviate the burden on health systems in the UK and beyond.
Find out more about our work.
Tab - Our work
Mental Health Innovations
We established a partnership with the digital mental health charity, Mental Health Innovations, to generate new insights into the UK’s mental health landscape. We’ll be learning from information generated by their 24/7 crisis text messaging service, Shout. The service allows anyone experiencing mental health difficulties or a personal crisis to text in to speak to one of their trained volunteers, who support texters to reach a calmer place and develop a plan to address their difficulties.
The collaboration provides us with an important opportunity to assess the impact of Shout, and learn directly from those who are experiencing a period of mental distress. We’ll be using the evidence generated to influence innovation in mental health and build the next generation of digital tools and services that are rooted in people’s needs.
Workplace mental health
The burden of poor mental health is not borne by the individual alone, but also by health systems, economies and societies across the world.
Alongside costs of treating and supporting people with mental health problems, poor mental health impacts the economy through missed work or reduced activity when people attend work unwell. Workplace mental health is therefore a growing national priority, particularly as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on employee wellbeing are increasingly recognised.
To address this important and timely issue, we are developing and piloting a mental health training programme for workplaces. This focuses on improving people’s attitudes towards accessing help. Sources of help for mental health can be formal, such as therapy or medication, or informal, like talking to colleagues or HR.
Evidence shows that seeking help is a driver of better mental health, although little is known about the impacts of informal help-seeking. Part of this programme is therefore also exploring the prevalence of help-seeking in the UK and the attitudes people have that are linked with seeking help.
Our findings are expected in the summer of 2021.
For more information or to discuss collaboration opportunities, please contact project lead Sarah P Jones, IGHI doctoral researcher.
Global mental health policy
Experts from our Centre have advised on and helped deliver policy reports on mental health as part of the World Innovation Summit for Health.
Our 2020 report on the digital mental health revolution highlights the recent explosion of digital tools to aid the assessment, support, prevention and treatment of mental health. Yet the potential of these technologies has been held back by a lack of evidence and engagement with the people they seek to benefit.
The report offers a framework for understanding these technologies and identified four key attributes to guide innovation in this sphere, including building trust and addressing inequalities.
Read the full report presented at WISH 2020, The Digital Mental Health Revolution: Transforming care through innovation and scale-up, by clicking here.
Our 2018 report on anxiety and depression outlines the global burden of these complex conditions and makes key recommendations to tackle them, focusing on prevention, awareness and integrated care.
This work aims to support policymakers around the world by highlighting successful evidence-based policies, practices and initiatives that could fill gaps in treatment and improve the quality of care.
Crucially, the report advises that anxiety and depression be recognised as a public health priority which should be incorporated into universal health coverage programmes. Our team believe that using this focused approach can help reduce the risks of mental health disorders and promote better health and wellbeing.
Read the full report presented at WISH 2018, Addressing Anxiety and Depression: A Whole System Approach, by clicking here.
Climate crisis and mental health
The climate and ecological crises are linked with a range of mental health impacts. From higher suicide rates associated with rising temperatures to PTSD and anxiety resulting from extreme weather events, the evidence is building that climate change can cause mental ill-health, both directly and indirectly. Yet this remains a largely neglected field of research and without intervention may further disrupt the capacity of already over-stretched health systems and increase mental health needs.
We have launched a programme of work that is seeking to better understand and address these pressing challenges, with a particular focus on young people who appear more vulnerable, particularly to distress from indirect awareness of the crisis. Called Climate Cares, the work aims to generate much-needed evidence, raise awareness, develop effective interventions, and guide policy.
Our vision is for individuals, communities and healthcare systems to have the knowledge, tools, and resources to become resilient to the mental health impacts of climate change and drive action.
As part of this work, we have collaborated with Imperial's Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment, to produce a policy briefing paper summarising the current evidence base for the mental health impacts of climate change. We also make a series of recommendations that practitioners and decision-makers can act on to respond to these impacts, with co-benefits for people and planet. This will be launched with a series of activities in early 2021.
As part of Climate Cares, we have launched a separate initiative called Changing Worlds. This is working to both understand and respond to the psychological and emotional needs of young people aged 16-24 as they navigate crises, including COVID-19 and climate change. The programme has run a survey to understand the range of psychological responses of young people in the UK to both climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, and the relationships with their mental health and sense of agency to contribute to change. The survey is being internationalised and our global partners will disseminate it in a range of settings in the coming months, including the USA, India and the Philippines.
We have also co-designed a guided journal which will serve as both a research tool and an intervention to respond to the climate distress and low agency we have seen in a group of respondents.