Mapping the Global Mental Health Research Funding System

by Alexandra Pollitt, Gavin Cochrane, Anne Kirtley, Joachim Krapels, Vincent Larivière, Catherine A. Lichten, Sarah Parks, Steven Wooding

This Article

RAND Health Quarterly, 2016; 6(1):11


This study maps the global funding of mental health research between 2009 and 2014. It builds from the bottom up a picture of who the major funders are, what kinds of research they support and how their strategies relate to one another. It uses the funding acknowledgements on journal papers as a starting point for this. The study also looks to the future, considering some of the areas of focus, challenges and opportunities which may shape the field in the coming few years.

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1. The field of mental health research is large (and growing) and diverse—over 220,000 papers were published between 2009 and 2014, supported by over 1,900 funders.

2. Many of the funders identified using our approach would have been unlikely to appear in a top-down analysis of “traditional” mental health research funders: we identified small or relatively new charities and foundations, as well as larger funders whose primary remit does notconcern mental health.

3. The US dominates the mental health research field, being both the largest producer of research (36 per cent of publications) and accounting for 31 per cent of government and charity/foundation/non-profit funding organisations.

4. Charities, foundations and non-profits form the most numerous group of mental health research funders (39 per cent of the funders identified), but governments fund the most papers, accounting for over two-thirds of the papers with funding acknowledgements.

5. In the mental health field, papers acknowledging the support of charities, foundations and non-profits tend to have a higher citation impact than those acknowledging other sectors.

6. The highest concentrations of mental health research funders are located in North America, northern and western Europe and China. China is dominated by government funding agencies, while some European countries, in particular Finland and Sweden, have relatively higher numbers of charities and foundations.

7. The mental health papers which focus on a clinical condition cluster into eight groups, with the most common conditions being neurodegenerative and cognition disorders; depressive, anxiety and personality disorders; and substance use and addictive disorders.

8. Funder co-acknowledgement on papers tends to produce national rather than topic-specific clusters, suggesting that despite increasing international collaboration, national boundaries still remain important in mental health research funding.

9. The majority of mental health research funders we looked at in depth do not have an explicit definition for mental health.

10. Funders of mental health research anticipate future or continuing challenges relating to the diversity of the field, difficulty in maintaining funding levels, and the translation of research into practice.

11. Opportunities identified by mental health research funders include increasing collaboration, developing shared definitions, capitalising on government priorities, developing a key role for non-governmental funders and the advance of technology.

The research described in this article was prepared for the International Alliance of Mental Health Research Funders and conducted by RAND Europe.

RAND Health Quarterly is produced by the RAND Corporation. ISSN 2162-8254.