Mental Health Award: applying neuroscience to understand symptoms in anxiety, depression and psychosis

This award will fund innovative projects that combine computational and experimental neuroscience approaches to improve understanding of symptoms of anxiety, depression and psychosis. Read more about our research priorities, eligibility, how to apply, what your research proposal must include and the research costs that are covered.

Overview 

Lead applicant career stage:
Administering organisation location:
Anywhere in the world (apart from mainland China)
Strategic programme:
Mental Health
Frequency:
One-off
Funding amount:

£2-5 million per project team

Funding duration:

3 to 5 years

Coapplicants:
Accepted

Upcoming key date 

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Who can apply 

Your experience

You can apply to this call if you are a team of researchers: 

We encourage applications from: 

  • diverse and interdisciplinary teams, with collaborations covering multiple areas of expertise (for example, biological, psychological and social)
  • researchers at any stage of their career, including those who are new to the field of mental health science. 

 

If you’ve spent time away from research

Career breaks, parental leave, sick leave 

You can apply for this award if you have spent time away from research (for example, for a career break, parental leave or long-term sick leave). We will take this into consideration during the review of your application.

Retirement

If you have retired you must contact us before applying. You must have a guarantee of space from your administering organisation for the duration of the award.

Working part-time

Lead and coapplicants can be part-time, but part-time applicants should still be able to contribute at least 20% of their research time to the project. Their part-time work should be compatible with delivering the project successfully.

Who can't apply 

You can't apply for this call if:

  • You intend to carry out activities that involve the transfer of grant funds into mainland China. 
    • The introduction of the Chinese NGO Law on 1 January 2017 requires foreign NGOs (like Wellcome) to have a representative office in China, or file documentation to carry out temporary activities in order to fund activities in China. Wellcome does not have a representative office in China and a temporary activity licence would not cover the nature of the activities we fund. Consequently we are unable to fund activities in China.
  • You cannot demonstrate that you can dedicate enough time and resources to the project, if funded. 
  • You are already an applicant on two applications to this funding call. 
    • You can only be a lead applicant on one application and a coapplicant on another one 
    • You can be a coapplicant on two applications 
    • You must demonstrate that you have sufficient capacity for both projects if funded. 
  • You already have applied for, or hold, the maximum number of Wellcome awards for your career stage. 

Find out how many Wellcome awards you can apply for, or hold, at one time depending on your career stage.  

Check what kinds of research projects are right for this call.

Is your organisation right for this call?  

What your administering organisation must do 

Your administering organisation must:

  • Give the applicant the space and resources they’ll need from the start date to the end date of the award.
  • If based in the UK, meet the responsibilities required by the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers. If based outside the UK, at a minimum the organisation must follow the principles of the Concordat.
  • Give you, and any staff employed on the grant 10 days a year (pro rata if part-time) to undertake training and continuing professional development (CPD) in line with the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers.
  • Provide a system of onboarding, embedding and planning for you when you join the organisation and/or start the award.
  • Provide you with the status and benefits of other academic staff of similar seniority.

Where your administering organisation is based 

Your administering organisation can be based anywhere in the world apart from mainland China.

Your administering organisation can be a:

  • higher education institution
  • research institute
  • non-academic healthcare organisation
  • not-for-profit or non-governmental research organisation.

Commercial organisations are not eligible to apply as administering organisations for this call. However, coapplicants and collaborators can be based at commercial organisations. 

Collaboration agreements 

If your application involves a collaboration or partnership between multiple organisations, the partners must enter into a suitable collaboration agreement, including provisions that cover: 

  • confidentiality 
  • publication rights 
  • access to background intellectual property 
  • ownership of foreground intellectual property 
  • arrangements for the protection, management and exploitation of foreground intellectual property.

The lead applicant’s administering organisation is required under our grant conditions to own all the foreground intellectual property arising from the project and to take the lead in any commercialisation activity. For guidance, applicants are advised to read Wellcome's intellectual property policy

Your research environment 

What is a research environment? 

Wellcome believes that a diversity of people and expertise leads to richer understanding and more impactful discoveries. Excellent research happens in environments where people from all backgrounds are treated with respect, supported and enabled to thrive. 

Our definition of a research environment is not restricted to the quality of the infrastructure, but also considers the culture and behaviours that create excellent research practice. This includes research that is inclusive in design and practice, ethical and engaged with relevant community stakeholders as well as open and transparent. 

Read more about research environment and culture.

Is your research right for this call? 

Research priorities

You must address the following research priority:

  • A focus on understanding the development, maintenance or resolution of one or more symptoms associated with anxiety, depression and/or psychosis. 

Researchers must take a symptom-based approach rather than looking solely at diagnostic categories and are required to provide:

  • Evidence that the one or more symptoms chosen are a core feature of anxiety, depression and/or psychosis (broadly defined; the one or more symptoms chosen may be transdiagnostic or specific to one mental health problem). 
  • A brief explanation of why the one or more symptoms chosen are important for people with lived experience of anxiety, depression and/or psychosis. This could be evidenced through existing qualitative literature and/or focus groups as part of project development. 

Read more about what we mean by a symptom-based approach.
 

Mental health conditions in scope 

This funding call is focused on projects that investigate symptoms of anxiety, depression and psychotic disorders. This includes:

  • all types of anxiety and depressive disorders (including obsessive compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder)
  • all forms of psychotic disorders (including schizophrenia, postpartum psychosis and bipolar disorder).

We recognise that the current diagnostic categories are imperfect but removing all categories or creating new ones also presents difficulties. Whilst we do not specify any particular diagnostic or classification system, we expect applicants to use a framework and measurement approach that fits the aim of their study and to provide a clear rationale for doing so.


What your research proposal must include

Your research proposal must feature:

A computational component

We want to fund projects that use computational neuroscience (whether data- or theory-driven computational methods) to understand the mechanisms underpinning symptoms of anxiety, depression and/or psychosis. Read more about what we mean by computational approaches.

An experimental component

Integrated approaches are necessary to understand complex symptoms associated with mental health problems. Projects will need to include an experimental component in at least one experimental model (for example, cellular or animal model) and/or in human participants. Projects relying solely on computational simulation are out of scope. Ideally projects will examine research questions at multiple scales of analysis – at least two from:

  • molecular
  • cellular
  • systems neuroscience
  • cognitive
  • behavioural
  • interpersonal
  • socioenvironmental context. 

A collaborative plan of work that includes mental health practitioners s as well as neuroscientists

Projects will need to bring together neuroscientists and mental health practitioners (whether current or in the past), including but not limited to: 

  • clinical psychologists
  • psychiatrists
  • social workers
  • teachers
  • helpline workers
  • pastoral care supporters
  • counsellors and peer supporters. 

Teams will be required to include such partners, for example:

  • to advise on the clinical relevance of research questions
  • to facilitate participation of patients in research
  • to advise on the development of interventions arising from the research.

Involvement of people with lived experience

Research proposals must involve lived experience expertise unless there is a strong justification for not doing so.

We recognise that there is a range of ways that research teams can involve and collaborate with lived experience experts. This may include, but is not limited to: 

  • expert advisors
  • coapplicants
  • collaborators
  • advisory group members. 

We are open to any methods of involvement that teams choose but it is crucial that lived experience experts are involved in the most appropriate and ethical ways to inform multiple aspects and stages of the research project. 

Consideration of translational impact

Research proposals must consider and clearly describe the potential impact of the proposed project and how, if successful, it would contribute to translational work (either directly or over time) supporting real-world application.  

For example, this could include developing new knowledge that would advance early intervention by identifying potential new opportunities for the prediction, identification and/or intervention in anxiety, depression and/or psychosis. 

One or more of our recommended common measures if conducting research with human participants

Projects with human participants must use, as a minimum, one or more of our recommended common measures in the collection of new data. You may also collect data using any other measure(s). This work must also comply with our policy on research involving human participants.  

Your research proposal is encouraged to include work on diverse or underrepresented populations. 

Kinds of research that are not right for this call 

Research that is not right for this call includes projects that:

  • study symptoms of anxiety, depression and/or psychosis for which there is no/inadequate evidence of clinical importance to people with lived experience of anxiety, depression and/or psychosis
  • focus on the identification of symptoms rather than elucidating their underlying mechanism(s)
  • primarily study symptoms of neurodevelopmental conditions, neurodegenerative diseases, or mental health problems outside of the broad categories of anxiety, depression, and/or psychosis (for example, eating disorders, substance abuse)
  • include only purely experimental or purely computational research
  • focus on evaluating the efficacy or effectiveness of an intervention rather than testing the mechanisms by which the intervention helps to resolve symptoms of anxiety, depression and/or psychosis
  • focus on exploratory or curiosity-driven mechanistic research that is not directly relevant to the scope of the call and the mental health remit.

Research costs we'll cover 

You can ask Wellcome to pay for:

How to apply 

Where to apply

Apply for this funding call on the Wellcome Funding Platform. You can save your application and return to it any time. 

Get more tips to help you write your grant application. 

Timing considerations for your application

You must leave enough time to make sure:

  • you read everything on this page before applying
  • you and your coapplicant(s) have time to complete the application
  • your administering organisation has time to review, offer feedback and for you to apply any amendments suggested
  • the authorised organisational approver at your administering organisation has time to approve and submit your application to Wellcome by 17:00 BST on 23 July 2024.

Getting support with your application

We offer disability-related support for applicants. Read the disability-related support guidance if you:

  • are disabled or have a long-term health condition and you need help applying for funding
  • need help completing your project, for example, asking for costs for assistive technology.

If you need further support with completing your application or need to request an extension to the deadline, please contact us.

Webinar 

Mental Health Award webinar 

Watch the recording of our funding webinar below to hear directly from Wellcome’s mental health team as they explain the rationale, objectives and eligibility for this funding call. 

Jump to a specific section:

How applications are assessed 

For consistency, we will evaluate all applications using the same weighted assessment criteria.

Essential criteria and weightings

Research question(s) and proposed methodology (40% weighting)

Potential and impact 

  • The proposed research must lead to an increased understanding of the mechanisms underpinning the development, maintenance and/or resolution of one or more symptoms associated with anxiety, depression and/or psychosis.
  • The project will contribute (directly or in time) towards translational research. This could include, for example, developing new knowledge that would advance early intervention by identifying potential new opportunities for the prediction, identification and/or intervention in anxiety, depression and/or psychosis.

Rationale and strength of evidence​ 

  • There is evidence that the chosen symptoms are a core feature of anxiety, depression and/or psychosis.
  • The rationale for choosing a particular symptom includes:
    • Evidence that the symptom is considered relevant and important to people with lived experience who are most applicable to your research (a brief rationale is sufficient).
    • An explanation as to how understanding more about the symptom will have implications for advances in translational research.

Proposed methodology

  • The research design clearly addresses the research question(s) and proposed hypothesis, seeking to gain insights into how symptoms develop, persist and/or resolve.
  • The research design features:
    • Computational research methods. 
      Model-based methods should describe and/or explain the mechanisms underpinning symptoms of anxiety, depression and/or psychosis. Model-free methods should be used as a tool in the service of improving understanding of mechanisms underpinning symptoms of anxiety, depression and/or psychosis.
    • An experimental component in at least one experimental model and/or in human participants.
  • The project is well-designed and feasible using the resources and timelines proposed (for example, a recruitment plan is in place and is achievable, and all components of the project have been appropriately costed). 
  • If the project includes work on diverse or underrepresented populations, the study design includes a plan to mitigate biases that might disproportionately impact these populations (for example, through sampling approaches, study site selection, inclusion/exclusion criteria or sub-group analyses).
     

Suitability and expertise of the team (20% weighting)

The project must feature an integrated, collaborative plan of work that includes mental health practitioners and individuals with lived experience as well as basic scientists.

The lead applicant has (appropriate to their career stage): 

  • research experience relevant to the project, as shown through research outputs and/or preliminary data
  • the experience needed to drive and lead a collaborative, large-scale research project and/or the necessary support structures in place to enable this
  • experience of people and research management.

The coapplicant(s)​ has/have: 

  • the expertise needed to deliver the project, with their contribution to the project being significant and justified
  • the appropriate time and necessary resources available to deliver the project.  

The team​: 

  • has the necessary expertise and technical skills, as well as the appropriate variety of disciplines and perspectives, to deliver the proposed project
  • includes lived experience experts and/or has the necessary skills to effectively involve and collaborate with people with lived experience of mental health problems in the proposed research
  • has members who are all necessary to deliver the proposed research and there is proof of concept that the proposed collaboration will be feasible and effective (for example, the team has appropriate management plans in place describing how the collaboration will be equitably organised and managed day-to-day)  
  • has contributed towards and is committed to fostering a positive and inclusive research environment, which demonstrates a commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion.  

Lived experience involvement (20% weighting)

  • People with lived experience are meaningfully involved  at multiple stages, including the conception, planning, design, delivery and dissemination of the project. There is a clear rationale for their inclusion (or exclusion) at each stage. You can access guidance on embedding lived experience expertise in your research.
  • Lived experience perspectives are represented across the project, including in leadership and governance roles. 
  • Lived experience experts have relevant experience and expertise applicable to the research, including being representative of the research  location. 
  • People with lived experience are compensated appropriately for their time.  


Suitability of research location and approach to research environment (20% weighting)

Research location  

  • The administering organisation is supportive of the research project. For example, it aligns with the organisation’s strategy and it provides in-kind or financial support in the form of PhD students, administrative or technical support, and training opportunities. 
  • The applicants have access to the necessary research infrastructure. For example, access to a magnetic resonance imaging scanner for projects involving human neuroimaging.

Research environment

  • Provide a detailed description of how the team will foster a positive and inclusive research culture. This could include, but is not limited to, information about:
    • career development
    • research practices
    • leadership
    • team composition and partnership
    • appropriate safeguarding measures for team members and collaborators, including people with lived experience.
  • Provide information and a plan on how to manage an integrated collaborative project.

Ethical, open, equitable and engaged research conduct​ 

  • Include an implementation plan with details about appropriate oversight, governance, monitoring, standard operating procedures and methods for course correction (as needed).
  • Write a detailed description of a suitable outputs management plan.
  • Provide information about how the research outputs will be made available to those who need them (for example, policymakers, communities and industry) and in which formats. 
  • Provide details about the relevant ethical, social and cultural implications of the proposed work, and how the study team plans to manage these issues, both in the conduct and oversight of the study and in the communication of its findings. 

Application process timeline 

Key dates

  1. April 2024

    Neuromatch networking events

    Two events: 25 April 16.00 UTC; 30 April 04.00 UTC
    Register here for Neuromatch

  2. 14 May 2024

    Information webinar

  3. 9 July 2024

    Scope check deadline

  4. 23 July 2024

    Full application deadline

  5. September 2024

    Shortlisting

  6. 3 - 5 December 2024

    Interviews

  7. December 2024

    Funding decision

More information about this call 

Our mental health strategy

Wellcome’s mental health strategic aim is to drive a transformative change in our ability to intervene as early as possible in the course of anxiety, depression and psychosis. Importantly, we must do this in ways that reflect the priorities and needs of people who experience these problems. 

This Mental Health Award will fund collaborative research projects that include the use of computational methods to improve understanding of symptoms of anxiety, depression and/or psychosis. Novel insights should be directly applicable to developing new or improved interventions.

Our rationale for this call

We conducted a series of scoping activities to explore how cellular, animal and computational neuroscience could best contribute to advancing Wellcome’s Mental Health strategy. The resulting report – Harnessing the potential of cellular, animal and computational neuroscience models for mental health – highlighted the need for research that applies these methods in combination to specific mental health symptoms to gain insights that would be impossible with each approach alone. 

The scoping also emphasised the importance of collaboration between neuroscientists, mental health practitioners and people with lived experience. Together, their insights and experience can take us from theory into practice. 

Only by bringing together these specialisms can we truly reflect and respond to the complexity of these mental health problems and contribute to their improved early diagnosis, treatment and cure – an outcome that would improve the lives of millions of people worldwide. 

This Mental Health Award will therefore fund research projects that will help us achieve our mission by combining the following key themes and approaches:

  • A symptom-based approach that aligns laboratory research with the needs of patients. Research priorities should be informed by the experience of people living with these symptoms and how they affect their daily functioning. Clinical research should shape the questions asked in cellular and preclinical animal models. This approach both relates to human experience and provides plausible constructs to model in the lab.
  • Use of computational methods that can bridge the gap between model and human studies. They involve using mathematical tools and theories to study brain function and simulate underlying mechanisms observed in data. There are two main approaches: 

    • Theory-driven approach: considered a 'top-down' approach, involves explicit theory-based hypothesis testing using controlled experimental paradigms.
    • Data-driven approach: a 'bottom-up' approach, uses machine learning to identify patterns and features indicative of psychiatrically relevant variables.  

    We are looking to fund projects that use either approach to understand the neural, cognitive or behavioural processes underlying anxiety, depression and/or psychosis. It is important for computational models to accurately mimic the complex changes seen in these mental health problems.

    For more info on computational models refer to section 1.3.2 of the Harnessing the potential of cellular, animal and computational neuroscience models for mental health report.   

    This worked example, and resource for researchers and data scientists, demonstrates how to measure, mitigate and communicate algorithmic bias in a predictive model for mental health

  • We want collaborative projects that bring together experimental and theoretical neuroscientists with mental health practitioners as well as individuals with lived experience of mental health problems. Read more about what we mean by ‘people with lived experience’, including guidance for meaningful involvement. The goal is to bridge the gap between our understanding of anxiety, depression and/or psychosis, and early intervention. Wellcome has partnered with Neuromatch to help applicants find potential collaborators through an online networking event. Read more about how to join these online events. 
  • Research projects should consider translation from the outset to have the potential to contribute to interventions, treatments and cures. We encourage applicants to design their research with future advancement in mind, even if they are at an early stage in the pipeline. By improving our understanding of how symptoms emerge, develop and resolve, the ultimate aim of this call is to find better ways to identify these problems early-on and to intervene at the most critical and earliest possible timepoints. 

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