Mental Health Award: looking backwards, moving forward – understanding how interventions for anxiety, depression, and psychosis work

This call provides funding for teams of researchers working across any discipline of relevance to mental health science. They will investigate the causal mechanisms underpinning effective interventions for anxiety, depression, and/or psychosis, to inform the development of new and improved early interventions.

Call at a glance 

Career stage:
Where the host organisation of the lead applicant is based:
Anywhere in the world (apart from mainland China)
Level of funding:

Up to £5 million

  • You should ask for the resources that you need and are appropriate for your proposed research project, justifying these costs in your full application. See the 'What we offer' section on this page.
Duration of funding:

Up to 8 years but can be much shorter

CLOSED TO NEW APPLICATIONS

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About this call 

As part of our new strategic focus on mental health as a key global health challenge, Wellcome aims to develop new and improved early interventions for anxiety, depression and psychosis, in ways that reflect the priorities and needs of people experiencing these conditions. This work involves increasing scientific understanding of how brain, body and environment interact in the development and resolution of these problems.  

This call focuses on investigating the causal mechanisms underpinning the active ingredients of effective interventions for anxiety, depression and/or psychosis. By active ingredients, we mean those aspects of an intervention that:

  • drive resolution or reduction of symptoms
  • are conceptually well defined
  • link to specific hypothesised mechanisms of action.

Active ingredients are diverse and wide-ranging, including: 

  • biological (for example, sleep-wake cycles, reduced inflammation in the body, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) 
  • cognitive (for example, emotion regulation, mental imagery, reduced repetitive negative thinking) 
  • behavioural (for example, behavioural activation, exposure, physical activity) 
  • relational (for example, peer support, social relationships, working alliance) 
  • societal (for example, social inclusion, urban access to green space). 

Since 2020, Wellcome has been considering different routes to resolution. We commissioned 51 teams to identify and review the evidence for more than 40 active ingredients. Teams were asked to consider ‘what works, for whom, in what contexts, and why’, with a particular focus on youth anxiety and/or depression. 

Looking across the reviews, a clear gap emerged: while there is evidence to show that many active ingredients are effective, we know much less about the biological, psychological, and social mechanisms of action underpinning how and why these ingredients work. It also became clear that there is currently not enough research being done across different disciplines and levels of explanation (for example, molecular, cellular, circuits, systems, behaviour, or societal levels) to provide the information we need to identify causal mechanisms. This is crucial because, just as the causes of mental health problems involve a tangle of biological, psychological, and social factors, so too do the solutions. Illuminating the relationship between these different aspects may be key. Without the mechanistic understanding of how and why active ingredients work, it is much more difficult to develop new and improved early interventions and to target them to the right people at the right time. This funding call proposes to address this gap in our understanding. 

We strongly recommend applicants read the report summarising the first 30 commissioned reviews, to help them understand what we mean by the concept of active ingredients and the sort of evidence being considered. But please note that the present funding call has a broader scope. While the report focuses on anxiety and depression in 14-24-year-olds, the present funding call also considers psychosis and is not limited to a particular age group, provided the focus is on intervening as early as possible. We are aware this may vary by context, and so age will not be a cut-off in itself. We also acknowledge that research seeking to understand how interventions work in older groups may serve to improve options for early intervention further down the line. In all cases, applicants must justify the relevance of their proposal for improving prospects for prevention or intervention at an early stage. 

For more information on Wellcome’s approach to active ingredients, including relevant publications by our team and the researchers we commissioned, please see the ‘Useful documents’ section on this page. 

About your proposal 

Who can apply 

Assessment criteria 

What we offer 

How to apply 

Key dates 

You must submit your application by 17:00 BST on the deadline day. We don’t accept late applications.

Open to New Applications

  1. Tuesday 24 May 2022

    Preliminary application deadline

  2. June 2022

    Shortlisting

  3. Week commencing 27 June 2022

    Applicants invited for full application

  4. Tuesday 13 September 2022

    Full application deadline

  5. 29 November 2022 - 1 December 2022

    Interviews

  6. December 2022

    Decision

Useful documents 

Contact us 

If you have a question about how to complete the application form using Wellcome Grant Tracker, please contact our Funding Information Advisers:

Send us a message

Phone us on(0)20 7611 5757

If you have a question about eligibility, what we offer, or our funding remit more generally, please contact the mental health team at mentalhealth@wellcome.org and include the title of the call ‘Looking Backwards, Moving Forward’ in the subject line.

We do not answer specific questions on the scope or competitiveness of proposals.