Research in the News

When we wrote our last ‘Research in the News’ update in early April the General Election was not even in prospect. It’s fair to say that there has been a lot of news since. The jury is still out on the impact it will have on mental health research.


During the General Election we saw all the main parties include separate sections on mental health in their manifestos. This was a first. It reflects the growing profile of the issue in the public arena, given a boost this spring by the Heads Together campaign, and the consensus that the current situation isn’t good enough. No political party can now safely ignore mental health.


Even better from our point of view was that the Conservative and Liberal Democrats included specific commitments on boosting mental health research in their manifestos, again a first for a general election.


The McPin Foundation joined with the rest of the Alliance of Mental Health Research Funders to write to all the parties setting out our manifesto for the change that is needed in mental health research. We want to ensure that everyone affected by mental health problems has timely access to help that is based on the best available evidence. We want to ensure that other areas of Government policy take account of the growing evidence of the impact they have on people’s mental wellbeing. You can read the open letter here.


With the election over we now wait to see if words in the manifesto will be turned into action. The Government announced in the Queen’s Speech that it intends to publish proposals for changing mental health legislation. Actual reform appears to be several years off however.


As a recent report by the Mental Health Alliance (of which McPin is a member) showed there is plenty of evidence that the current system is not fit for purpose, but there remains a lot of uncertainty about the causes and possible solutions. Hopefully the Government will take the time to ensure that the new legislation is developed with the people who it will most affect, and to commission the necessary research so we have the necessary information needed to design a better system.


Of course any changes to legislation will only be as good as their implementation. This includes making sure that mental health services, and the other public and community services that people affected by mental health problems use, are good enough to minimise the need to use mental health legislation in the first place. Again more research and evidence that has the people affected at its heart is needed to re-design these services.


It will also be important that the mental health research world, and Government, does not become distracted by reforming legislation. Most of the people affected by mental health problems are never directly affected by the Mental Health Act. The recent report from the Care Quality Commission highlighted that many mental health services are struggling to provide high quality care. Without evidence based services, which are properly funded and staffed, new mental health legislation will make little difference even to the lives of the people who are subject to it.


An unfortunate side effect of the election was that the new Department of Health strategy for mental health research was delayed again. We now expect it to be published in the autumn. If the Government takes the opportunity of this pause to develop a strategy that will deliver the transformation of mental health research that is needed it will make a much larger difference to peoples’ lives than any amendments to legislation.