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 

Request for proposals: workplace mental health

This is our second commission exploring the evidence behind approaches for supporting workplace mental health. 

We’re looking to commission up to 20 teams to look at the evidence on one promising approach for preventing or addressing mental health problems in the workplace. 

We’re particularly interested in research focused on people who may be marginalised within the workforce and workers in low- and middle-income countries. All research teams should involve people with lived experience of mental health problems in the reviews.

Applications from any global location, sector and career stage are encouraged. 

Next steps

1. Active ingredients for youth anxiety and depression

We refer to 'active ingredients' as the aspects of interventions that make a difference in preventing, treating, and managing anxiety and depression in young people (14-24) worldwide. To find the next generation of mental health treatments and approaches, we first need to learn more about the efficacy of individual 'active ingredients'. These ingredients are varied, spanning biological, cognitive, relational, and societal approaches. 

So far, we’ve had two commissions in this area of work, and a third is currently in progress.

Active ingredients commissions

  • June – October 2020

Our first commission focused on building a foundational set of active ingredients that we know work for most young people, in most contexts, globally. 30 research teams reviewed the evidence for one active ingredient they deemed among the most likely to help. 

We’re currently working on a summary report to share the findings of this first commission. In the meantime, we’ve teamed up with Mental Elf to communicate the individual findings via blogs, podcasts, and videos.

  • June – December 2021

In our second commission exploring active ingredients, we asked 21 teams based in different parts of the world to review one active ingredient, in addition to those covered in 2020. 

You can view the active ingredients from both commissions arranged by theme: in a PDF format [PDF 36KB] or listed below.

Active ingredients insights commission

  • September 2020  January 2021 

We commissioned two research teams to explore and report on qualitative insights about active ingredients from young people with lived experience and researchers globally. The insights generated have helped us to refine our work by bringing to the fore new voices and ideas from across the mental health science community.

2. Workplace mental health

Businesses invest a lot into mental health and wellbeing initiatives, but there is limited evidence about what actually works. At best, interventions are working, and we just don’t know why, or at worst, they could be causing harm. We want to understand more about the evidence behind different mental health initiatives and demonstrate that it’s possible for businesses to take a scientific approach to supporting mental health in the workplace. 

So far, we’ve had one commission in this area of work and a second is in progress. 

  • July – December 2020

In our first commission, we asked 10 global research teams to review the existing evidence on one promising approach for preventing or addressing anxiety and depression in the workplace, with a focus on workers under 25. The approaches spanned from flexible working, to group psychological first aid, to mindfulness.

Read a summary of the findings from this commission in our report Putting science to work

  • October 2021 – March 2022

We’re looking to build on our first set of findings by commissioning up to 20 research teams to look into more promising approaches for workplace mental health. The deadline for expressions of interest is Monday 28 June.

Read more about what we’re looking for and how to apply

3. Mental health databank

We’re developing a global databank to collect rich data about which approaches could help people better manage their mental health.

  • July 2020 – January 2022

This call sought a software supplier to develop and test a databank that helps answer the questions: 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.

Related content 

Read and listen to the latest updates about our work.

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.