By Andy Bell and Ozden Merve Mollaahmetoglu

Earlier this month, the first Mental Health Policy Research Unit in England was established. Led by University College London and Kings College London, in partnership with researchers from City, University of London and Middlesex University, it also includes Centre for Mental Health and the widely respected Mental Elf.

The Mental Health Policy Research Unit is commissioned by the Department of Health through the National Institute for Health Research’s Policy Research Programme, to support policy makers make informed decisions for the benefit of the general population, patients and the NHS.

The unit is tasked with providing robust evidence to inform policy development and implementation, and evaluating policies and pilot schemes before policies are fully implemented: something Centre for Mental Health has long campaigned for and supported.

The Mental Health Policy Research Unit aims to incorporate the views of individuals who have used mental health services in every stage of research. With this in mind, a Patient and Public Involvement group will be set up, whereby research will be carried out with or by members of the public. Work carried out by the Centre, most recently with young Black men in Birmingham, has consistently demonstrated the benefits of peer research and the need for this to become the norm rather than the exception.

Building on the Centre’s history of bringing evidence to bear on policy and practice, the unit will ensure that research is used effectively to drive change and improve people’s experiences.

The unit aims to be a nationwide medium to communicate evidence to policy makers. We are establishing a nationwide network of collaborators including researchers at Warwick and Lancaster Universities and collaborators beyond academia including Centre for Mental Health.

Mental Health Policy Research Unit’s priorities in research will be determined by the Department of Health and affiliated bodies. A programme of work detailing research priorities will be prepared in the coming weeks.

The unit will provide new evidence on high priority policy questions in mental health by undertaking reviews of the literature, analysing existing data from large public datasets, and conducting qualitative studies of experiences of relevant stakeholders including individuals who have used mental health services or mental health care professionals. 

The Centre will work alongside colleagues in the Unit to ensure that research translates into practical policy recommendations for the Government, the NHS, local authorities and other key policymakers. Building on the Centre’s history of bringing evidence to bear on policy and practice, it will ensure that research is used effectively to drive change and improve people’s experiences.

By partnering with Policy Research Unit colleagues, the Centre will ensure that learning derived from high quality research is shared widely and makes an impact quickly

By partnering with Policy Research Unit colleagues, the Centre will ensure that learning derived from high quality research is shared widely and makes an impact quickly: for example by sharing findings with ‘member champions’ from more than 90 local authorities across England and by providing intelligence to clinical commissioning groups, sustainability and transformation partnerships and others in key strategic roles across the NHS.

Mental health has never been such a high policy priority. We are determined to ensure that research evidence is applied to public and political debates about mental health and to policymaking at every level so that its benefits are felt widely and sustainably.


Ozden Merve Mollaahmetoglu is a recent graduate of MSc Clinical Mental Health Sciences at UCL. She is an Honorary Research Assistant on the Mental Health Policy Research Unit at UCL’s Division of Psychiatry.