Pioneering new interdisciplinary approaches in Birmingham

By Matthew Broome.

Matthew Broome is Professor of Psychiatry and Youth Mental Health, and Director of the newly-established Institute for Mental Health at the University of Birmingham. Here, Professor Broome describes the Institute’s interdisciplinary approach, with a focus on youth mental health and early intervention.

The University of Birmingham has a very strong history of mental health research and innovation, with the West Midlands being one of the leaders in Early Intervention in Psychosis (EIP) services in the UK. The Birmingham Institute for Mental Health (IMH) has been established to maximise the collaborative efforts of academics at the University and builds on the strong existing partnerships with practice in the NHS.  In particular, it builds on relationships with:

Together, this will support the NHS to deliver mental health services to young people that meet the aspirations of the UK ‘Five Year Forward View for Mental Health’.

Our approach to mental health recognises its multi-dimensional nature. A broad approach is required to understand the biological, psychological, anthropological, sociocultural and socio-economic factors that shape individual and population mental health. Such an understanding may, in turn, guide interventions.

This approach requires an ambitious research agenda and multi-sector engagement.

Its objective is to ensure a sustained impact on public policy and practice, and to improve both mental health care and the outcomes generated. We will undertake high quality research in mental health, with a focus on youth and life course mental health.

Approximately 75% of lifetime mental health conditions begin before the age of 24 years. Prevalence of mental health conditions in adolescents and young adults has increased in recent decades and is likely to continue to do so. Developing early intervention strategies in youth services is increasingly more important;  helping people when they are young may prevent serious life-long conditions developing, as well as improving prognosis. Birmingham is one of the youngest and most diverse cities and, as a large civic university, the University wants to meet the needs of the city’s population.

In addition to this focus on youth and life course, the IMH is distinctive in that it is explicitly inter-disciplinary.  The IMH is Cross-College, being connected with the College of Arts and Law, the College of Social Sciences, the College of Life and Environmental Sciences, and the College of Medical and Dental Sciences at the University.  Hence, members of the IMH will come from a variety of disciplines including sociology, sport and exercise science, social policy, psychiatry, neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy and ethics, and will be co-located in new accommodation on campus.

Birmingham is strong in relevant discovery science through the Centre for Human Brain Health (CHBH), directed by Professor Ole Jensen. The CHBH houses state-of-the-art brain imaging equipment allows for investigating the physiological substrate of mental health conditions. These investigations are aimed at improving diagnosis and guiding interventions.

The IMH will also have strengths in social policy. The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) Commission on Mental Health, chaired by the former UK Minister for Mental Health, Rt. Hon Norman Lamb MP, provides a contemporary and timely overview of mental health in our local area. It has reported that an estimated 4.032 million people were living in the West Midlands Combined Authority in 2014–15. The population is culturally diverse, with over 22% from Black and Asian Minority Ethnic communities. Over half of this population live in the most deprived 20% of areas in England. There are links between insecure housing, financial stress, mental health and child development, which influence life chances and social mobility.

Against this backdrop, the 7th University of Birmingham policy commission was launched shortly after the Institute’s initiation.  The focus of the commission is mental health promotion and illness prevention across society and is led by The Rt. Hon Paul Burstow, former Minister of State for Care Services.  Findings to date suggest that 1 in 4 young people require mental health support, but only 1 in 3 of those that need it, get the help they need – a shortfall of care provision estimated to cost the region £12 billion/year.

Our partnerships, although rooted in the West Midlands, are global in their outlook and have already established formal links with Orygen, The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, based in Melbourne, Australia. This partnership has been framed around joint academic appointments, joint PhD and Masters programmes, and strong collaborative research.

The Institute is well poised to use this wealth of resources together with its existing and recognised expertise within cognitive neuroscience, psychology, social policy, philosophy, ethics, education, health economics and medicine to inform policy and practice, which will change the outlook of mental health for our young people and society.

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