Centre for Society and Mental Health

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: Health Service and Population Research

Abstract

The ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health will bring about significant advancements in our understanding of how social, economic and cultural transformations affect mental health.

Mental health is a priority for governments and policy makers, in areas ranging from economic productivity to community cohesion and individual wellbeing. It is also intrinsically social: the factors that promote mental health or lead to mental health problems lie in our societies, our schools, our workplaces, our communities, and in the nature of our contemporary social lives. The impacts of social contexts, inequalities, and experiences on mental health differ by social group and vary geographically. We are living through a period of rapid and far-reaching change, in our environments (physical, social, virtual), social organisation (including issues around urbanisation, cohesion, exclusion, marginalisation and disadvantage), technological change (and its impact on relationships and employment), and social policy in the contexts of education, work and welfare.

Yet we do not know enough about which dimensions of our social, economic, cultural and personal lives affect our mental health, how, or by what means they might be modified. As such, we do not have evidence-based policies to address these challenges and to understand the nature and role of particular social and economic stressors on mental health, nor an understanding of the individual and social factors that enhance resilience.

The Centre will bring together expertise across social science, epidemiology, psychiatry, neuroscience, patient and public involvement, and policy analysis, to ask: What are the consequences for mental health, positive and negative, of major contemporary social transformations? What social, economic and health policies can support improvements in individual and community resilience to mental health problems?

We will pose, respond to and answer these and other key questions through coordinated programmes of theoretically-informed, empirically-evidenced, interdisciplinary research. These will be defined and delivered in partnership with affected communities, mental health service users, government departments, local authorities, schools and colleges, community organisations, mental health charities, and social and economic policy makers. We will collaborate with leading research groups working on these issues in other countries, and with existing UKRI-funded research infrastructure. We will evaluate existing interventions, apply novel concepts, and develop innovative methods for understanding the relationship between mental health and social experiences.

The Centre will carry out programmes of research across three key areas where social, cultural and economic transformations have produced substantial challenges, and which could benefit from intervention: 1) rising mental health problems among young people; 2) increasingly unequal rates of mental health problems in disadvantaged communities; and 3) the negative effects on mental health of changes in the security of work and the provision of welfare. For each, we will seek to understand mental health trajectories (how problems develop over the life course), ecologies (how social and material environments influence outcomes), and vulnerabilities and resiliencies (why some individuals and groups in adverse social contexts experience mental health problems while others do not).

Our research will identify the factors that amplify or attenuate the impact of social transformation on mental health, and the social, economic and health policies that can support mental health in individuals and populations. We will train a new generation of genuinely interdisciplinary social scientists equipped with the knowledge, the skills and commitments to help governments, policy makers and communities, not just to better support those with mental health problems, but to create mentally healthy societies for the future.

Planned Impact

The Centre has the potential to have a major economic impact on the UK, where mental health problems cost c.£105 billion annually. These costs are largely indirect (unemployment, lost productivity, social welfare), plus substantial direct healthcare and non-medical costs. Research can reduce this burden if it helps to better understand the modifiable social processes that shape mental health, leading to improvements in the effectiveness (and cost-effectiveness) of socially-based preventive interventions. Social benefits include improved individual, community and organisational resilience, via a more fine-grained understanding of the relationship between mental health and our environments (physical, social, virtual), social organisation (including issues around urbanisation, cohesion, exclusion, marginalisation and disadvantage), technological change, and social policy in the contexts of education, work and welfare.

By focusing on the modifiable social factors, the Centre is inherently impact-oriented. Impacts are likely to be long-term, measured over years and decades, thereby ensuring a significant legacy from investment. Impacts will be instrumental, improving efficacy of policy proposals and service development. They will also be attitudinal, through heightened awareness of (and likelihood to seek support for and be more resilient to) the social factors that can lead to mental health problems, e.g. changing organisational cultures, and enhancing public dialogue around mental health, of utility to schools, youth groups, caregivers, parents, and community groups.

Such impact can only be achieved by working in partnership - as the Centre will, building on considerable momentum - with mental health service users, government departments, local authorities, schools and colleges, community organisations, mental health charities, and social and economic policy makers. We identify four key beneficiary groups:

YOUNG PEOPLE (YP): focusing initially on 11-18y/o's in 12 prtner schools across South London (c.10,000YP, their parents, carers, and teachers), with the McPin Foundation, thereafter scaling-up nationally (to 25y/o's, transition to early adulthood; anticipated at 50+ schools c.40,000YP). Close, sustained relationships with initial groups, then broader engagement via youth mental health organisations nationally (e.g. Place 2 Be) using the Centre's materials for use by teachers, c.100,000+. Benefits to YP include increased awareness of mental health (trajectories, ecologies, vulnerabilities, resilience) and available support.

MARGINALISED COMMUNITIES: initially focusing within London and Manchester, with an estimated reach of c.500,000 people, and on groups experiencing multiple disadvantages. Thereafter extended through partnership with city-based initiatives (e.g. Thrive LDN, Thrive NYC). Benefits include improved recognition of the value of their experience and expertise in the research process (including priority-setting), increased trust, and benefits arising from recommendations made via the Centre for service and welfare provision.

MENTAL HEALTH SERVICE USERS: via our work with service user groups (e.g. NSUN), will benefit from improved understanding of the effects of social conditions on mental health problems, recommendations for changes to service provision, and focus of acute and ongoing care that re-orientate to social circumstances. Further benefit from the production of a Mental Health Yearbook to provide up-to-date, accessible information on research outputs and their relevance to care and mental health services.

NGOS, POLICYMAKERS AND SERVICE PROVIDERS: will benefit from improved understanding of the effects of social welfare and public service provision on mental health (e.g. the conditionality of welfare benefits), and from recommendations for actionable change in practice (e.g. NHS England National Clinical Director for Mental Health part of the Centre's Scientific Board).

Publications

10 25 50