Where Do We Really Spend Money on Mental Health Research?

Thanks to Professor Miranda Wolpert for sharing some of the details of a recent study looking at the details of mental health research funding. For me these three points underscore some of the issues we have:

Despite growing awareness of mental health in recent years, funding for mental health science has not increased: Global investments in mental health research have remained approximately $3.7 billion per year in real terms between 2015 and 2019, equating to roughly 50 cents per person per year


The majority of funding for mental health science comes from Governments, with little support from philanthropists or charities : 96.5% of funding comes from Government, with less than 2.6% from philanthropy and 1% from charities.


Only a very small proportion of mental health research funding is spent in low-middle income countries: Despite accounting for 84% of the worlds population only 2.4% of mental health research funding is spent on examining mental health in low and middle income countries.

The reason I find these to be interesting has everything to do with what they tell us about how society truly looks at mental health issues.

For example, wealthy countries have become more likely to have conversations about mental health, but we are almost 100% dependent on government agencies to fund any scientific research. Why is that? Could it because other funders don’t see it as important as other medical research? Is donating money toward helplines and other charitable endeavors that reach out to actual patients generate better PR than funding something like research?

And, if we are so dependent on government funding, we’ll never get to a point where those low-middle income countries catch up. That seems fairly obvious.

On the other hand, here’s something to think about. Yes, we need better funding for resources, but we also don’t really know enough about what works, and what doesn’t work, let alone prevention.

Let me throw a couple of other numbers from the article above to make my point:

Only 17% of funding is for research into prevention and treatment. Most of it is basic science, looking for biological factors, and most of it is also spent on studying adults, rather than young people, or the elderly, even though those are two groups with growing mental health issues.

This all seems misplaced. If we can find scientific research that would help find early treatment options that we know work, we could create a situation where our need for resources actually started to decrease. If we could get that treatment to young people, and people in poor areas, including poor countries, we could, likewise, create less need for long-term mental health resources.

But that’s not where we spend our money. We spend it studying adults, and looking for biological causes instead of studying what we could do early to prevent early mental health issues from becoming worse, requiring more resources, and doing more damage to people’s lives.

Why do we do this?

I’m glad someone is looking at this and asking these questions. They are important questions to ask. But, will they result in making any real change? We can only hope.


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