Shaping the future of mental health research

Mental health research and practice is to be strengthened through a partnership between the University of Strathclyde, the NHS and New York University (NYU).

The Mental Health Futures Collaborative (MHFC) has been established to strengthen partnerships within the University, and externally with the NHS, the third sector and international universities, with a focus on mental health research and knowledge exchange. MHFC is a strand of Health and Care Futures, which is led by Professor Roma Maguire, of Strathclyde’s Department of Computer and Information Sciences.

MHFC aims to strengthen evidence for the prevention of mental health problems and to advocate for policy change to address wider factors around the issue, as well as promoting and developing digital technology for use in mental health treatment.

MHFC will be informed by the mental health experience of individuals and will feature professionals from the private and public sector, the NHS, social care, occupational health and human resources, as well as student support services. Researchers from each of Strathclyde’s four faculties will play a role in the venture.

The concept of mental health being central to all health lies at the heart of the collaborative, which also has a significant focus on addressing health inequalities.

Dr Nicola Cogan, Senior Lecturer in Strathclyde’s Department of Psychological Sciences & Health, is the University’s lead in the venture. She said: “MHFC is an exciting opportunity to bring together academics, practitioners and professional services staff working in mental health within Strathclyde, as well as external stakeholders and international collaborators, to strength our collaborative partnerships and leadership in mental health research and knowledge exchange moving forward.”

Lee Knifton, Co-Director of Strathclyde’s Centre for Health Policy, who is co-lead on the Collaborative, said: “Our focus within the Collaborative is to be at the forefront of world leading research and knowledge exchange with our international partners.”

Professor Victoria Stanhope, Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs at NYU Silver School of Social Work, said: “We are delighted to be working with colleagues within Strathclyde to help us strengthen our collaborative research focused on mental health and vulnerable populations.

“We can draw important insights between some of the mental health challenges within our urban environment here in New York and those evident within Glasgow; we want to understand better ways to reduce mental health inequities.”

Strathclyde and NYU explored the opportunities for the coming decade at the recent Transatlantic Mental Health symposium at NYU, which also marked the 10th anniversary of the strategic partnership between the universities. The event also examined similarities between Glasgow and New York, including inequalities in urban environments.

Professor Neil Quinn, of Strathclyde’s Department of Social Work and Social Policy, has led on the NYU partnership over the last 10 years with Lee Knifton. He said: “This symposium was a fantastic opportunity to build on the long-standing collaboration with NYU on mental health. Over the last 19 years, we have collaborated on research funding, publications, knowledge exchange, student summer schools and collaborative PhDs.

“I feel very excited about the potential for taking forward this collaboration as part of MHFC”.

Within MHFC, there is a strong focus on bringing together academics, mental health practitioners and policy makers to strengthen partnership working and have an impact on practice and policy developments.

One key area of focus is on improvements in public mental health. Honorary Professor Peter Byrne, of the Department of Psychological Sciences & Health, who has a leadership role in public mental health at Strathclyde, said: “I have been very lucky in my professional life as a psychiatrist. Two opportunities stand out: a leadership role for public mental health from the Royal College of Psychiatrists since 2014 and multiple collaborations and visits to NYU with Strathclyde colleagues.

“You need to meet the people who run the programmes & the populations they serve. Through this group, I have seen fantastic public mental health work in the poorest parts of NYC and climbed up the steep learning curve for What Works with limited budgets. If the UK wants to reduce rising inequalities and worsening mental health, we need to discover and trial solutions from the US too”. 

Dr Linda Irvine Fitzpatrick, of Edinburgh Health and Social Care Partnership, NHS Lothian and an Honorary Senior Research Fellow at Strathclyde, said: “It's a shot of energy and passion from wonderful and generous people that motivates and inspires you to create and innovate further.”

During the NYU symposium, Dr Irvine Fitzpatrick set up a visit to the John V Lindsay (JVL) Academy Wildcat Café in the Bronx, which runs a culinary programme in which students from vulnerable and disadvantaged backgrounds are taught interactive and employability skills. Several of its alumni have gone on to careers in catering, including some at leading restaurants. Exploring the mental health benefits of engagement with such programmes and learning from cross-cultural comparative research and knowledge exchange is a focus within MHFC.

Dr Cherrie Short, Senior Fellow at NYU, said: “We are delighted to progress our partnership with our colleagues at the University of Strathclyde to build a portfolio of innovative mental health research collaboration of relevance to our global and community strategies.”

MHFC is a strand of Health and Care Futures, which is led by Professor Roma Maguire, of Strathclyde’s Department of Computer and Information Sciences.