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Mental health research: working it out together

One of the ways the MRC supports scientists in delivering world-leading research is by holding workshops where researchers can meet with our programme teams to discuss the MRC’s aims and ambitions for their area of work. As we prepare to publish our updated Strategy for Lifelong Mental Health Research, Dr Kathryn Adcock, the MRC’s Head of Neurosciences and Mental Health looks forward to the global mental health workshop coming in June.

Close-up of group of people in discussion while sitting at an office table

As with so much in life, the best ideas often emerge when we come together. It’s the meeting of minds that enables those ideas to grow, and dialogue and debate that nurtures those ideas, shaping the world of tomorrow.

This is especially true for research. The MRC fervently believes that the best research often comes about when researchers collaborate, irrespective of science area and increasingly, irrespective of geographical boundary.

Social media provides a terrific virtual way to bring scientists together, whether it’s announcing new programmes and research calls on twitter, or commenting at the foot of blog posts like this one. But as helpful as the virtual world can be, there’s nothing like face-to-face interaction.

That’s why we hold workshops, bringing together our researchers with other experts who play such an pivotal role in our research, such as colleagues from industry, other funders and charities.

It’s a three-way thing. Workshops enable the MRC to meet our research community so we can inform them about our strategic objectives and how we can support and champion world-leading research. And they provide forums for us to identify existing gaps and to review emerging opportunities; with a view to informing the MRC’s future strategy and helping to ensure that the balance of MRC investment in the area is appropriately aligned.

But it goes the other way too, allowing researchers to ask us questions about any aspect of their work and about our funding plans to see how their research ambitions might fit in, now and in the future.

More crucially though, these workshops also provide informal but structured opportunities for researchers to meet each other and to see how they can learn, share and form fruitful partnerships.

A global challenge

In June we will be holding a workshop for researchers working in global mental health, looking at the role they can play in helping to understand the drivers in mental illness in lower and middle income countries (LMICs). The one-day event will focus on our two recent funding calls in global health research in the two strategic areas of nutrition and mental health research.

There are many factors that can contribute to people developing mental illness, but our experiences in early life are pivotal. The MRC-funded Dunedin cohort showed that 50 per cent of mental illness starts before the age of 15 and 75 per cent by age 18. The causes range from poverty through to maltreatment and neglect, which can apply to rich or poor, wherever you are in the world.

The personal, social, cultural and economic burdens and impacts of mental health know no boundaries. Taking a global perspective will enable our researchers to study a wider range of external drivers, to provide a better understanding of the biological, genetic, social, cultural and environmental factors that influence mental and cognitive development, both in the UK and LMICs.

Defining research questions

That’s why we’re holding the June workshop, to bring our research community with us as we embrace the holistic approach that will be vital to further understand the interactions and experiences that can contribute to the development of mental illness, especially during childhood and adolescence.

The workshop will help researchers define research questions, assess the viability of proposed approaches and the feasibility of collaborations. In this case the emphasis is on addressing issues that are primarily relevant to LMICs to help lay the grounds for future large scale, multidisciplinary, cross-country global health research.

This holistic approach is central to our updated strategy for mental health research, due to be published later this month, in which we will set out how we’ll support world-class mental health research to create new opportunities for treating and preventing mental illness. And it’s what we’ll be talking about in June at our workshop. So if you’re interested in working in global mental health, we’ll see you there.

Kathryn Adcock

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