Wellcome began 2019 by committing an additional £200 million to mental health research at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

Wellcome is one of the world’s biggest funders of mental health research, providing over £300 million in funding over the last ten years. Alongside the additional £200 million, Wellcome will continue to fund neuroscience and mental health research through its usual science funding schemes.


The challenge

Over 615 million people suffer from anxiety and depression worldwide. Depression and anxiety often go untreated, especially in low-income countries, and treatments are only effective for around half of people. Clinicians often have to use trial and error to work out the best treatment, without being able to explain why one person’s treatment is different to another’s.

Mental health research is fragmented, with researchers often working in silos, and mental health problems described and measured in different ways. Wellcome aims to bring together different groups of researchers – including psychiatrists, neurologists and, public health specialists, neuroscientists, data scientists and cell biologists – to share knowledge and collaborate.


Wellcome’s response

Wellcome’s new five-year programme will focus on improving basic understanding of depression and anxiety to improve treatments – supporting research into what works and why, and how best to tailor treatments to the individuals who need them. It will concentrate on psychological therapies that can be delivered early in life and early in the onset of illness, as mental health problems typically start at a young age.

The goal is to create a culture like that of cancer research, where seamless collaboration across basic and social science, clinical medicine and public health have helped to drive new approaches to treatment and prevention and much better health outcomes.

To transform how depression and anxiety are treated, Wellcome aims to:

  • find new ways to ’back translate’ successful psychological therapies, so that the biological and neurophysiological mechanisms underpinning them are better understood
  • develop common standards for how depression and anxiety are assessed, to enable consistency and comparison between different groups
  • Create a new global database to host mental health data, to enable researchers to carry out large-scale analytics and encourage them to collaborate on key challenges: for example, to differentiate between different types of depression.


“We know too little about the underlying causes of mental health, how treatments work, why they work for some and not others, and how to make them more effective. Science is essential to answering these questions, which is why Wellcome is committing £200 million over the next five years. To take on this huge challenge, we need broad expertise, with researchers from different backgrounds and experiences, and different countries, alongside governments, businesses and wider society. There is a great opportunity to innovate and transform our mental health, in everything from basic research and early prevention, to frontline treatment and workplace initiatives.” – Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director, Wellcome Trust

Website: https://wellcome.ac.uk/what-we-do/our-work/mental-health-transforming-research-and-treatments
Twitter: @wellcometrust

Photo credit: Jeremy Farrar, Director, Wellcome Trust speaks at the Annual Meeting 2019 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 23, 2018. Copyright by World Economic Forum / Greg Beadle