6 projects we fund to enhance mental health

In Mental Health Awareness Week 2017, we’re highlighting examples of research we fund to improve understanding of mental health and identify new treatments.

Ana Saraiva Ayash, our Neuroscience and Mental Health Science Portfolio Adviser, and Andrew Welchman, Head of Neuroscience and Mental Health, outline each of the projects.

1. MQ

MQ is a charity funding much-needed scientific research to transform the lives of people affected by mental illness. We gave £20 million of seed money to kickstart the charity in 2014 and it has been growing ever since. For Mental Health Awareness Week, MQ has launched its Dare to Swear campaign. 

2. Stratifying Resilience and Depression Longitudinally (STRADL)

Andrew McIntosh, University of Edinburgh

This five-year longitudinal project is studying individuals who have known depression risk factors, such as a family history of low mood, early-life health problems, or psychological trauma in childhood. The goal is to gain a better understanding of clinical depression to develop earlier, personalised and more effective treatments.

As an extension to the project, we recently funded a Seed Award to Stella Chan to identify vulnerability markers for adolescent depression. 

3. My Resilience in Adolescence (MYRIAD) 

Mark Williams, Sarah-Jayne Blakemore and Tim Dalgleish, Oxford Mindfulness Centre 

Adolescence is a vulnerable time for the onset of mental illness – 75% of mental disorders begin before the age of 24, and half by age 15. MYRIAD aims to promote good mental health and resilience, particularly in the crucial childhood and teenage years, by developing early interventions.

The project team is developing a schools programme based on mindfulness training and will train teachers to deliver a mindfulness-based curriculum. The goal is to help to inform future educational policy strategies.

4. Hellblade

Developed with money from what has now become the Wellcome Public Engagement Fund, Hellblade is a virtual game that follows the fictional life of Celtic warrior Senua. It uses its hero's journey as a way to explore mental health, with a particular focus on psychosis.

The game's developer has worked closely with Wellcome Investigator Paul Fletcher from the University of Cambridge, as well as consulting people with experience of mental health difficulties to ensure a sensitive and accurate portrayal of the subject.

Paul featured on the BBC Two Horizon documentary ‘Why did I go mad?’, exploring recent psychological and scientific insights into schizophrenia and psychosis.

Hellblade is due to launch later this year.

5. Neuroscience in Psychiatry Network (NSPN)

Ed Bullmore, University of Cambridge

Funded in part through a Science Strategic Award, NSPN is a collaborative initiative between Cambridge and UCL to investigate how the adolescent mind and brain develops into early adulthood. Its first study is ‘U-Change’, a project aimed at characterising healthy brain development.

Recent research from the project has shown that human adolescence is a period associated with various structural changes in the brain.

6. Advancing cognitive therapy for anxiety disorders and PTSD

Anke Ehlers and David Clark, University of Oxford

This project wants to make psychological treatments more effective and increase their availability.

With a focus on social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder, the team is developing internet-delivered versions of psychological treatments that require much less therapist-focused time.

The goal is to create an NHS database that will enable precise investigation of who responds to the treatments and why they work.

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