Figures from the mental health charity MQ found that only 5.8% of the UK’s total health research budget is spent on mental illness.
For each person affected by mental illness, approximately £8 is invested in mental health research while around £176 per sufferer is invested in cancer research – meaning that mental health research receives 22 times less funding than cancer research. But why is this the case, what can we do to change these figures and, importantly, could our health information hold the key to democratising research and if so, should this data be used?
These questions catalysed The University of Manchester’s Centre for Health Informatics to bring together experts from across research, the NHS & mental health charities to publicly debate the following;
Do you agree that mental health data is no more sensitive than physical health data and that both should be used equally in data linkage research?
Arguing for research parity between physical and mental health data were:
- Dr Sophie Dix (Director for Research, MQ mental health charity)
- Professor Martin Severs (Medical Director and Caldicott Guardian for NHS Digital)
Arguing that physical and mental health data are intrinsically different and should be treated as such:
- Dr Julie Morton (Senior Lecturer in social work, University of Salford)
- Dr Michelle O’Reilly (Associate Professor with the University of Leicester and Research Consultant with Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust)
There was an overarching consensus from all speakers that we need to tackle mental health issues with the same energy and priority that we afford to physical ailments and that changes must be made in order to make this a reality.
However, the path to achieving this parity of esteem was contested. The speakers explored a range of topics including: how current legislations apply to different types of health data, how research practice might change if mental health data were actually declared more sensitive than physical, whether the data we currently have access to is sufficient to produce meaningful results in mental health research and how individuals would feel if their data were leaked.
The debate sparked poignant and thought provoking discussions between our speakers and the audience around mental health service provisions, stigma and how the use of data could improve the lives of those affected by mental illness. Leaving everyone involved with a lot to think about: