Mental Health Retrosight

Fish Schizophrene by Bryan Charnley

Fish Schizophrene by Bryan Charnley


Mental Health Retrosight is about understanding how research translates into clinical application, with a focus on schizophrenia. The burden of mental ill-health, including schizophrenia, is a significant and growing problem worldwide. How can funders and policymakers encourage the most efficient and effective use of research resources to quickly bring new treatments and cures to millions of sufferers?


Our aim in this study was to identify where and how mental health research has translated (or not) into advances in schizophrenia care, in order to find those attributes of the research, researchers and research context that have previously led to success. These attributes could be selected for, promoted or nurtured as appropriate by funders, policymakers and researchers themselves, to increase the impact of future research.

The project was funded by the International Alliance for Mental Health Research Funders.

Key Findings

  1. The case studies and perspectives support the view that mental health research over the past 20 years has led to a diverse and beneficial range of academic, health, social and economic impacts.
  2. Over a 20-year time period, clinical research has had a larger impact on patient care than basic research.
  3. Those involved in mental health research who work across boundaries are associated with wider health and social benefits.
  4. Committed individuals, motivated by patient need, who effectively champion research agendas and/or translation into clinical practice, are key in driving the development and implementation of interventions.

These and further findings are linked to a set of provocations for policymakers (see Policy Report or Research Brief).


Our method combined two approaches from the toolbox of the ‘science of science’ to examine how research conducted 20 years ago is related to patient benefits and wider impacts today:

  • FORWARD-TRACING CASE STUDIES began with 18 different high-profile research projects of 20 years ago, and traced the paths of their outputs forwards into the wide range of impacts experienced today, including academic, health and wider social and economic benefits. The tracing combined interviews with the original researchers and clinicians with bibliometrics and desk research, in an iterative process to develop a nuanced narrative and add depth and detail.
  • BACKWARD-TRACING PERSPECTIVES began with six different current interventions or treatment advances. Using interviews with experts in the field, combined with desk research, we attempted to build a textured narrative that traced backwards (sometimes further than 20 years) to identify the research antecedents of each advance.

The observations and policy provocations from the two arms of the study were examined for complementary and reinforcing messages, and combined to give the full set of findings, provocations and an emerging research agenda.

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