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

Active ingredient

Team(s) (lead in bold)

Key reference (first author, year)

Better able to shift perspective

March Bennett (UK), Tim Dalgleish, Tamsin Ford

Powers (2019)
Better gut microbiome function

Kathrin Cohen Kadosh (UK), Jennifer Lau, Glenn Gibson

Liu (2019)
Better sleep-wake cycle

Ian Hickie (Australia), Joanne Carpenter, Jacob Crouse

Carpenter (in press)
Better stress response via relaxation

Syed Usman Hamdani (Pakistan), Ahmed Waqas, Atif Rahman

Caldwell (2019)
Better urban access to green space

Issy Bray (UK), Danielle Sinnett, Faith Martin

Houlden (2018)
Developing more helpful thinking patters

Jennifer Lau (UK), Victoria Pile, Colette Hirsch

Biagianti (2020)
Engagement with theatre or the arts

Kamala Easwaran (India), Yog Japee, Tasneem Raja

Hacking (2008)
Helpful use of mental imagery

Victoria Pile (UK), Jennifer Lau, Emily Holmes

Holmes (2016)
Improved management of emotions

Joanne Beames (Australia), Aliza Werner-Seidler

 

Alexander Daros (Canada), Lena C. Quilty, Sasha Allen

 

Sarah Skeen (South Africa), Mark Tomlinson, G.J Melendez-Torres

Sendzik (2017)

 

 

Moltrecht (2020)

 

 

Pandey (2018)

Improved problem solving

Karolin Krause (Canada), Darren Courtney, Peter Szatmari

 

Robyn Mildon (Australia), Jane Lewis, Bryce D. McLeod, Kristina Metz

 

Daniel Michelson (UK), Vikram Patel, Bruce Chorpita

Zhou (2015)

 

 

Bell (2009)

 

 

Chorpita 2009)

Improved view of self

Faith Orchard (UK), Laura Pass, Brioney Gee, Tim Clarke

Orchard (2019)
Improving social relationshipsPaul Badcock (Australia), Kate FiliaDuffy (2019)
Increased financial resources via cash transferJohannes Haushofer (USA & Kenya), Jimena Romero, Kristina EsopoLund (2010)
Increased neighbourhood cohesion

Josefien Breedvelt (Netherlands), Claudi Bockting, Claire Niedzwiedz

Kingsbury (2015)
Increased self-compassion Sarah Egan (Australia), Clare Rees, Amy Finlay-JonesFerrari (2019)
Increased sense of mattering

Dean Ho (Singapore), Matt Oon, Theodore Kee

Flett (2018)
Increased social connectednessLindsay Dewa (UK), Emma Lawrance, Hutan Ashrafian, Lily RobertsHare-Duke (2019)
Increasing engagement with positive activitiesKanika Malik (India), Bruce Chorpita, Vikram PatelMartin (2019)

Learning to be more hopeful

Clio Berry (UK), Jo Hodgekins, David FowlerEsteves (2013)
More bodily movementAlan Bailey (Australia), Alexandra Parker, Rosemary Purcell Bailey (2018)
Reduced avoidance of feared thingsJennie Hudson (Australia), Ron Rapee, Viv Wuthrich, Cathy CreswellCraske (2014)
Reduced loneliness

Ellie Pearce (UK), Roz Shafran, Gerhard Andersson

Ma (2019)
Reduced perfectionismTracey Wade (Australia), Sarah Egan, Roz ShafranEgan (2011)
Reduced repetitive negative thinkingImogen Bell (Australia), Mario Alvarez-Jimenez, John GleesonMonteregge (2020)
Reducing levels of inflammation in the body

Lianne Schmaal (Australia), Yara Toenders

Milaneschi (2020)
Use of antidepressantsCath Harmer (UK), Susannah Murphy, Argyris Stringaris, Liliana CapitaoCousins (2015)

 

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.

 

Workplace approach being reviewed

Team (lead in bold)

Key reference (first author, year)

Group Psychological First Aid (GPFA)Brynne Gilmore (Ireland), Frédérique Vallières, Kinan Aldamman, Sarah DavidsonWorld Health Organisation (2011)
Financial wellbeing programmesChristian van Stolk (UK), Jennifer Bousfield, Camilla d’Angelo, Clement Fays, William PhillipsBrüggen (2017)
Peer supportAsha Ali (USA), Taryn Tang, Leslie Bennett, Matt KudishMental Health Commission of Canada (2016)
Flexible work policiesPhilip Osteen (USA), Dina Wilke, Jodi Jacobson FreyHalpern (2005)
Reducing prolonged sitting timeAaron Amarjit Kandola (UK), Brendon Stubbs, Joseph HayesOwen (2020)
Social support interventionsSadiq Naveed (USA), Ahmed WaqasN/A
Mindfulness trainingIshtar Govia (Jamaica), Rochelle Amour, Tiffany PalmerPillay (2019)
Employee autonomyIvan Roberts (UK), Jack Evans, Cary CooperJensen (2013)
Challenging stigmaSandesh Devdhar Samudre (India), Kaustubh Joag, Soumitra PathareGray (2019)
Induction buddy schemesRobert Cook (UK), Christine Hancock, Alicia White, Rosie Martin, Anelia BoshakovaOswald (2015)

 

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

  • Report 8 September 2020 Updated 14 September 2020

    Mental health: listening to young people and learning from Covid-19

    [Summary] A commitment by Wellcome, UNICEF, the WHO, and the World Economic Forum to embed three principles across our mental health work: lived experience, local innovation, and larger than healthcare. 

  • Report 1 February 2017 Updated 14 September 2020

    Protecting mental health: acting early against anxiety and depression

    DownloadPDF 141KB

    We brought together a range of experts to define the research and support that’s needed to be able to detect anxiety and depression earlier.

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.