Mental health: transforming research and treatments

The world is decades behind on mental health. Starting with anxiety and depression in young people, Wellcome is determined to transform how we understand, fund and address these problems by 2030. Our vision is a world in which no one is held back by mental health problems.

Mental health programme strategy

Our mental health programme began in January 2020. It is a five-year, £200 million commitment to transform how we understand, fund, prevent and treat anxiety and depression in young people.

Read the programme strategy

Why it's important 

Anxiety and depression are holding millions of people back in life. But despite this, for many years, treatments have hardly progressed. They are accessed by the minority, do not help everyone and we know little about what works for whom.

Mental health science is fragmented with problems described and measured in different ways. We are decades behind in developing a new generation of treatments and approaches to address these issues.

Wellcome has long been a supporter of research into mental health. The work we’ve funded has led to NICE recommendations on the use of psychological therapies in the UK, including establishing the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme, and research into whether mindfulness training in schools can prevent the onset of mental health problems.

What we want to achieve 

Our mission is to find the next generation of treatments and approaches to prevent, intervene, manage and stop relapse of anxiety and depression in young people.

To do this Wellcome is kick-starting a radical transformation of mental health science to look at the issue through a new lens: that of the ‘active ingredients’ of interventions that work.

Alongside a community of researchers from a wide variety of relevant disciplines, we will weave currently siloed knowledge together, bring forward disempowered voices and use standardised measures.

We will create a user-controlled global databank to enable everyone to monitor what works for them and create big data for new research insights.

And to bring vital funding to mental health, we will work with policy makers, funders and the public to advocate for effective and scalable global treatments and approaches using the power of science.

It goes without saying that we have to do this in partnership with young people with lived experience of mental health problems. This will make sure that we invest our money and efforts in the types of support most important to young people, and that they are empowered to use what we learn to help themselves and others.

We're committing £200 million in funding to this area, and we’ll look particularly at:

  • finding the next generation of treatments and approaches for anxiety and depression, as millions of people worldwide have these conditions
  • young people, because most common mental health problems start between the ages of 15 and 24, and the longer someone has a condition the harder it is to provide effective help
  • global locations, because we want to ensure scalability to everyone including those in places with limited resources.

This funding is in addition to the funding we already offer for research across all areas of neuroscience and mental health. Applications for our existing schemes won’t change, and your research won’t stand a greater or lesser chance of being funded if it includes a focus on depression and anxiety, young people or psychological therapies.   

What's at stake

  • One in four people will experience a mental health problem in any given year.
  • Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health problems affecting over 400 million people worldwide.
  • 75% of people with a mental health problem develop it before the age of 24.
  • Mental health problems are predicted to be the main cause of global mortality and morbidity by 2030.
  • Only one in five people receives appropriate treatment for depression and anxiety in high-income countries, and one in 27 in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Underlying mechanisms of who is helped and how are not known.
  • Ranging from peer support to societal changes, over 100 different approaches have been suggested to address anxiety and depression but the vast majority have never been researched.

The areas we're focusing on 

Our mental health programme began in January 2020. It is a five-year, £200 million commitment to transform how we understand, fund, prevent and treat anxiety and depression in young people.

Read the programme strategy

Commissions 

Between 2020 and 2022, we will draw on a wide range of expertise to build the foundations of our mental health strategy.

1. Active ingredients insight analyses

June - October 2020

Our first commission explores active ingredients: the aspects of interventions that really make a difference in preventing and treating anxiety and/or depression in young people (14-24) worldwide. Each team will review the evidence for one active ingredient they deem among the most likely to help.

The proposed active ingredients are diverse. They range, for example, from improving gut microbiome function to increasing financial resources via cash transfer, from the use of antidepressants to increased self-compassion.

In time, we want to work with the mental health science community to refine and review these initial active ingredients to a core foundational set that we know work for the most young people, in the most contexts, globally. They will underpin Wellcome’s work on finding the next generation of mental health treatments and approaches over the first five years of the programme.

Active ingredients proposed as "best bets" for young people aged 14-24 worldwide
For depression and anxietyFor depression onlyFor anxiety only
For prevention of problems and intervention once arisen
  • Better able to shift perspective
  • Better stress response via relaxation
  • Developing more helpful thinking patterns
  • Helpful use of mental imagery
  • Improved management of emotions
  • Improved problem solving
  • Increased self-compassion
  • Increased sense of mattering
  • Increased social connection
  • Increasing engagement with positive activities
  • Learning to be more hopeful
  • Reduced loneliness
  • Reduced perfectionism
  • Reduced repetitive negative thinking
  • Better sleep and body clocks
  • Improving social relationships
  • Increased financial resources via cash transfer
  • Reducing levels of inflammation in the body
  • Reduced avoidance of feared things
For prevention only
  • Better urban access to green space
  • Increased neighbourhood cohesion
  
For intervention only
  • Engagement with theatre or the arts
  • Use of anti-depressants
  • Improved view of self
  • More bodily movement
  • Better gut microbiome function

2. Workplace mental health

July - November 2020

Suppliers will review existing evidence on one workplace approach for anxiety and depression, with a focus on under 25s.

As the world responds to COVID-19, reviews may focus on particularly relevant workplace situations such as key workers or newly dispersed workforces.

3. Databank learning partner

July 2020 - January 2022

This call sought a databank software supplier to develop and test a databank that helps answer: what works for whom and why to prevent, treat, stop relapse, and manage anxiety and depression in 14-24s worldwide? The databank will hold rich longitudinal data on approaches, treatments and interventions banked by young people globally.

Key features will be the potential for iteration of what data is collected, easy access for a wide range of mental health scientists, and empowered users.

4. Active ingredients consultation

September 2020 - January 2021 

To achieve radical change in how mental health research is done, we need to bring to the fore new voices and ideas from across the mental health science community.

Suppliers will report on qualitative and/or quantitative insights from young people with lived experience and researchers including as a minimum, those in the UK, South Africa and India. The insights will help us refine our work on ‘active ingredients’: the elements of interventions that work.

See the full Active Ingredients Insights RFP [PDF 284KB]

Reports 

  • Protecting mental health: acting early against anxiety and depression PDF 140.6 KB
  • Contact us 

    See who's who in the mental health programme team.

    If you have any questions or comments, email mentalhealth@wellcome.org.

    And read Professor Miranda Wolpert's posts on LinkedIn(opens in a new tab).