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Adult mental health

Could data science revolutionise mental health care?

2 August 2017

One in four people are affected by mental illness each year, with often devastating impacts on their lives. And whilst mental illness is gaining increasing attention in the media and political debate, our understanding of what causes conditions ranging from anxiety to schizophrenia is still woefully inadequate, with research lagging far behind that of other physical health conditions.

Just £8 is spent on research into mental illness per person affected – 22 times less than cancer. At MQ: Transforming Mental Health, we think it’s shocking that for so long mental health research has been under-funded and unprioritised. And so we’ve made a pledge to take it on, by funding world-leading scientists looking to answer some of the big questions in mental health, such as: how do mental illnesses develop, who is most at risk and why do some people get better when others don’t?

Our data science programme is a key part of that pledge.  By combining multiple data sets looking at everything from treatments accessed and outcomes to school records, the data scientists hope they will be able to get a more complete picture of how mental health affects individuals and improve the treatments they receive.

We’ve funded four scientists a total of £200,000, to explore how data can help us drive forward progress in mental health. Their projects are varied and innovative, using data to tackle different challenges such as: identifying suicide warning signs in schools, matching people to the best psychological treatment option in the NHS, personalising mental health treatments for young people, and helping to increase life expectancy in schizophrenia, a study being carried out Dr James Walters’, an academic psychiatrist at Cardiff University.

James will be looking at the largest genetic sample of people with schizophrenia and linking it to clinical data. His work will enable us to establish the impact that genetic risk factors have for people with schizophrenia, including physical health problems, like cardiovascular disease and obesity.

By improving our understanding of genetics in schizophrenia, we will be able to create better targeted interventions for individual patients.

The potential of James’ and the data scientists’ work could be revolutionary for mental health care – allowing us to identify those most at risk and intervene earlier, with more personalised and accurate treatments.

Whilst we have a long way to go in order to achieve parity with physical health, we are making progress, and by funding innovative programmes like these, we’re taking the first step towards a better future for those facing mental illness.