A science charity wants to replicate cancer research culture in mental health

The Wellcome Trust will invest an extra £200m on researching the best treatments for anxiety and depression

A science and research charity is committing an extra £200 million to improving treatments for mental illnesses like anxiety and depression.

The Wellcome Trust, based in London, will launch a new five-year programme focusing on the most effective treatments for psychiatric conditions, how those treatments can be tailored to suit individuals and when in life they have the biggest impact.

The Trust has invested £300 million in mental health research funding over the past decade and will continue to fund neuroscience projects through its usual funding schemes alongside the additional £200m.

The programme aims include improving understanding of the mechanisms behind successful treatments; developing universal standards for how depression and anxiety are assessed; and creating a new global database of mental health data so that researchers can collaborate on key challenges like differentiating between different types of depression.

Charity director Dr Jeremy Farrar announced the initiative at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

He said: “Mental health affects everyone, either directly or through our relatives and close friends. There has been great progress in improving awareness over the last few decades but too many people are still left behind. We know too little about the underlying causes, how treatments work, why they work for some and not others, and how to make them more effective.  Science is essential to answering these questions.”

According to Wellcome Trust figures, over 615 million people around the globe suffer from anxiety and depression, often going untreated – particularly in low-income countries and communities.

The charity intends to “create a culture like that of cancer research”, where collaboration across sectors has driven innovation, by bringing together a mix of experts like psychiatrists, data scientists and cell biologists.

The director added: “To take on this huge challenge, we need broad expertise, with researchers from different backgrounds and experiences, and different countries, alongside governments, businesses and wider society.

“Mental health is not just a pressing public health problem, it’s also a huge productivity and economic issue. Far less is spent on mental health research than on physical health. More investment is essential to develop and improve treatments, get these to the people who need them and reduce the stigma that tragically surrounds mental health issues.

“There is a great opportunity to innovate and transform our mental health, in everything from basic research and early prevention, to frontline treatment and workplace initiatives.”

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