Project Ecosystem: Mapping the Global Mental Health Research Funding System
To support the coordination of mental health research, RAND Europe mapped the research funding ‘ecosystem’. Researchers explored who the major funders are, what kinds of research they support, and how their strategies relate to one another.
The field of mental health research is large and growing, and opportunities include increasing collaboration, developing shared definitions, capitalising on government priorities, developing a key role for non-governmental funders and the advance of technology.
The field of mental health research is large and complex. It covers a diversity of health conditions, employs a broad array of different research approaches, and is driven by a large and varied population of researchers and funding organisations. In a context where important, complex questions remain unaddressed and resources are limited, these characteristics present a significant challenge for efficiently and effectively coordinating and conducting research.
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 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.
These questions are considered at the global level, as well as specifically in Canada and the UK.
The study used primarily a bottom-up approach, taking individual journal papers – the outputs of the research process – as a starting point for defining the mental health field, identifying funders and constructing a data set for the subsequent analyses.
Our primary data source was the funding acknowledgements made by researchers on papers published between 2009 and 2014. A survey of researchers was used to explore acknowledgement behaviour and validate the list of funders obtained from the acknowledgement analysis. A telephone survey of the major funders identified in Canada, the UK and globally provided qualitative data on the level and nature of funding, current priorities and collaboration activities. Finally, a set of 32 'deep dive’ profiles of funders was compiled, looking in depth at their current practices and future plans.
The project team found that:
- 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.
- Many of the funders identified using the study approach would have been unlikely to appear in a top-down analysis of 'traditional' mental health research funders: the team identified small or relatively new charities and foundations, as well as larger funders whose primary remit does not concern mental health.
- 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.
- Charities, foundations and non-profits form the largest 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.
- In the mental health field, papers acknowledging the support of charities and foundations tend to have a higher citation impact than those acknowledging other sectors.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The majority of research funders the team looked at in depth do not have an explicit definition for mental health.
- 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.
- 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 study was supported by members of the International Alliance of Mental Health Research Funders. The Alliance convenes funders of mental health research worldwide. It focuses on greater knowledge exchange and collaboration within the sector to increase the impact of mental health research funding.