A new generation of digital technologies is set to play a transformative role as the country’s top mental health researchers and clinicians join forces to solve some of the greatest mental health challenges facing the UK public.
The group of investigators, based in leading universities and hospitals across the country – including those at the NIHR Nottingham Biomedical Centre (BRC) Mental Health and Technology Theme and the NIHR MindTech MedTech Co-operative, which is based at the Institute of Mental Health in Nottingham – will form a new NIHR Mental Health Translational Research Collaboration (TRC).
This will work with industry and charity partners to find new treatments and therapeutics.
Currently, it is estimated that one in four people in the UK is living with a mental health condition. That’s nearly 15 million people with an illness that affects their well-being, their relationships with family and friends, and their ability to work.
The new NIHR Mental Health TRC will carry out much-needed scientific research to help transform the lives of those affected by mental illness. The initial focus of the collaboration will be on trying to better understand treatment resistant depression and improving characterisation of those individuals deemed to be ‘at risk’ of developing mental illness.
It will also develop well-defined patient cohorts who have consented to be recalled to future mental health research studies, in order to increase the numbers of people with mental disorders taking part in experimental medicine studies and trials.
Professor Chris Hollis, Leader of the Nottingham BRC Mental Health and Technology Theme and Director of the NIHR MindTech MedTech Co-operative, said:
“Two-thirds of adults and three-quarters of all children with mental health problems fail to receive any treatment. Digital technology has the potential to transform mental healthcare by improving access to novel interventions embedded in more accessible, efficient and flexible services that provide better outcomes for patients.”
Professor Hollis added: “The NIHR Mental Health TRC provides a huge opportunity for a ‘step-change’ in the pace and scale of research in the UK which will improve the lives of patients.
“In Nottingham, our BRC Mental Health & Technology Theme and NIHR MindTech MedTech Co-operative have created a unique pipeline bringing together mental health researchers, patients, clinicians, computer scientists and engineers to design, develop and evaluate a new generation of mental health technologies.
“We are using virtual reality, smartphones, wearable sensors and computerised assessments to assess, diagnose and treat mental health conditions faster and more effectively. We are excited by the opportunity provided by the Mental Health TRC, which should make the UK a world leader in digital mental health research.”
The NIHR Mental Health TRC is underpinned by world-class clinical research facilities provided by the NIHR’s Biomedical Research Centres and Clinical Research Facilities, and the NIHR Mental Health MedTech Co-operative, but acting as a single partnership.
Dr Louise Wood, Director of Science, Research and Evidence at the Department of Health and Social Care, said: “Mental ill-health is the largest single cause of a disability in the UK and is a significant burden on people’s lives and on society. If we are going to improve people’s chances of living well and being able to work, we need to speed up the development of new treatments, particularly for those for whom current therapies do not work.
“The NIHR Mental Health TRC is bringing together the expertise of some of the best researchers in universities, the NHS, charities and industry to do just that. It will play a key part in the development pathway for potential new treatments, hopefully bringing them to people living with mental health conditions faster.”
Professor Matthew Hotopf CBE, Director of the NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre and Chair of NIHR Translational Research Collaboration in mental health said:
“There are enormous opportunities for innovation as science and technologies relevant to mental disorders are increasingly producing results, particularly in neurosciences and digital technologies. By working collaboratively, we can accelerate this innovation to help those with mental illness.”
MQ: Transforming Mental Health is the TRC’s charity partner and will be part of the steering group as well as providing financial support to assist with the running of the collaboration.
Dr Sophie Dix, Director of Research at MQ: Transforming Mental Health, said: “We’re delighted to support this important initiative which further catalyses the UK’s world-leading role in mental health research. Importantly, it will significantly increase the scale and reach of innovative research so we can bring forward much-needed advances in our understanding and treatment of mental illness.”