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In this blog post, Ed Penington explores the discussions around economic and policy challenges in mental health revealed at a recent half-day workshop, sponsored by the ARC OxTV titled: Let’s talk about mental health: economic and policy perspectives.

As of 2023, the National Health Service in England is spending more money on mental health services than at any time in its history, while funding research into improving mental health treatments has developed into a Government priority over recent years.

Despite these investments, outcomes for people with mental health conditions remain poor and access to effective treatments can be challenging. Even before COVID-19, people with a severe mental illness were around 5 times more likely to die prematurely than those without while nearly a quarter of mental health patients wait more than 12 weeks to start treatment.

Addressing these issues will need better collaboration between researchers, clinicians, service users and policy-makers in the economics and policy of mental health - this was the theme of a recent event hosted by Oxford Mental Health Economics and Policy.

The half-day workshop, titled Let’s talk about mental health: economic and policy perspectives, took place at Green Templeton College in September, and included speakers and attendees from the NHS, local mental health services, and a variety of academic disciplines. The goal of the event was to hear about the priorities for and challenges of delivering mental health services, and share some of the research currently underway to understand and improve services.

Key discussions included a summary of the current policy landscape in mental health at a national level, led by leading figures in the NHS, Government and medical research. Dr Annabel Yadoo, the Deputy Head of Mental Health at NHS England, discussed the investments in and targets for mental health laid out in the 2019 Long Term Plan, which she described as “job begun” rather than “job done” following decades of underinvestment and the challenges of the pandemic.

Executives from local commissioners and providers of mental health services shared their frameworks for and experiences of deciding how much to spend, on what and why. Professor Husseini Manji presented the progress of the UK Government’s recently established Mental Health Mission (of which he is Co-Chair), which he believes will aid research into new treatments through an “inflection point” following decades of limited progress in an extremely complex and costly area. Dr. Joan Marsh, Editor-in-Chief of Lancet Psychiatry, echoed the concern that research in psychiatry can struggle to influence policy and practice, urging researchers to plan for an “active afterlife” of engagement with decision-makers following publication, including on the difficult questions of costs and benefits for each intervention.

Researchers from across Oxford shared their research findings and priorities on topics ranging from the lifetime economic impacts of child anxiety to the cost-effectiveness of treatments for dementia and pre-dementia, culminating in the official launch of Oxford Mental Health Economics and Policy (OMHEP). OMHEP is a new research group aiming to bring together world-leading researchers at the intersection of mental health, economics and policy across the University of Oxford.

Based on the lively discussions during the Let’s Talk seminar (and the subsequent prosecco reception), there is much more to explore in bringing these worlds together.

If you are interested in hearing more about OMHEP and future events, please visit the OMHEP website.

– Ed Penington, DPhil student, Dept. Psychiatry, University of Oxford.


Original event details:

Mental health is in the core of national and local priorities in the NHS and receives an increasing proportion of the government’s efforts and dedicated resources to improve population health and patient experience, decrease health inequalities, and tackle healthcare expenditure growth.

This workshop brings together academics, clinicians, commissioners, and policy makers to discuss about the current needs and challenges in mental health care and potential (evidence-based) policy responses. The workshop is convened by Assoc. Professor Apostolos Tsiachristas and supported by Oxford’s Department of Psychiatry and Green Templeton College. It will include presentations from key speakers but attendance and participation in the discussion is open to students, academics, NHS workers, charity workers, patients and public.

The workshop will conclude with the official launch of Oxford Mental Health Economics and Policy (OMHEP), followed by drinks in the Stables Bar.

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