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COVID-19, mental health and the MRC

Mental health research is a long-term strategic focus at the Medical Research Council (MRC), with £47.8 million invested in this area in 2018.

Research will be critical to understanding the impact the COVID-19 pandemic may have on mental health and wellbeing in the short and long-term, and the best approaches to reduce these impacts.

Professor Fiona Watt, Executive Chair of the MRC, said:

The past few months have been challenging for all of us. As we gradually begin to emerge from the initial lockdown phase, it is clear that the social and psychological impacts of the pandemic could be with us for some time.

Uncertainty, anxiety and fear are all natural feelings in the current situation, but combined with other issues such as isolation, changes to health and social care provision and school closures, they can be risk factors for mental health.

There is also so much that we don’t know about how the virus and the disease itself directly affect the brain and the mental health of those who are infected.

Agile expertise

MRC units, centres and institutes quickly applied their relevant expertise to carry out research on the pandemic. A few examples are:

  • the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge undertaking studies to explore the impact of the pandemic on the development, education and mental wellbeing of children, and whether innovative interventions to help combat depression may be carried out effectively online
  • the UK Dementia Research Institute tackling questions about the effects the virus may have on the brain, helping us to better understand how COVID-19 patients can be monitored and treated for the neurological effects
  • Dr Isabel Oliver and her team at Public Health England are studying the impact of isolation and wider public health measures on mental health and wellbeing.

Agile funding

UKRI rapidly funded a range of urgent research projects into some key questions about health and COVID-19.

Mental health research addressing the most pressing needs has been supported through a number of other funding routes, like:

New projects will build on the existing resources for mental health research and draw on the valuable expertise of diverse disciplines and specialities.

This means we will respond rapidly and effectively to the new challenges to our mental health and anticipate and address future needs as they emerge.

Last updated: 28 October 2020

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