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4 Min Read

What the launch of Nature Mental Health journal means for the future of mental healthcare – and why

7 Feb 2023
Dr Louise Marshall

Mental healthcare is at a turning point. After decades of neglect, we are finally seeing exponential growth in recognition of the challenges posed by mental health conditions, for individuals, societies, governments and economies.

To transform the future, we need a new generation of integrated, multidisciplinary mental health science – a science that can deliver the insights needed to accelerate understanding, prevention and treatment of mental health conditions, and ultimately improve lives.

The launch of Nature Mental Health is an important step on this journey. The journal will bring together different lines of research - spanning psychology, psychiatry, neuroscience, biology, social science, epidemiology, and economics - that have not traditionally been published in the same outlet. In so doing, it will play a role in uniting a diverse community of mental health experts around a common goal of integrating evidence to advance mental health science, innovate treatments and improve outcomes.

Mental health is a diverse challenge in need of joined-up solutions

Mental health conditions are highly variable: different people experience different symptoms that can change across time and contexts, and are driven by a complex interplay of biological, psychological and social factors. In an effort to understand them, researchers from a breadth of disciplines employ diverse methods and measures to address a myriad of scientific questions. But the consequence has been the emergence of highly specialised - yet fragmented - scientific and clinical communities that work in siloed departments and sectors, and share their findings in different venues. In turn, this has contributed to limited knowledge sharing between those with the collective expertise to catalyse progress.

We need a new approach: one grounded in collaboration and evidence integration.

We will only improve if we integrate diverse evidence

At ieso, integrating evidence is central to our mission to innovate discovery research and transform mental healthcare.

As one of the largest online providers of psychological therapy services to the NHS in England and Scotland, we have delivered over 600,000 hours of typed therapy to more than 110,000 adults with common mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. This method of treatment delivery has been shown to improve treatment access and effectively reduce mental health symptoms.

But we also recognise that to improve outcomes for a diversity of people with different experiences, symptoms and needs, we need to move beyond a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment. We are therefore working to integrate different types of data (e.g., our patients’ mental health measures, physical health measures, demographic information, treatment variables and outcomes) to learn how to better personalise mental health treatments by targeting a person’s specific symptoms with the most effective elements of therapy.

Data insights underpin how we improve mental health treatments  

Because we monitor patients’ depression, anxiety and other functional measures before, during and after a course of treatment, and use an AI-based tool developed by ieso to automatically annotate every element of therapy delivered to each patient, we are able to learn which treatments lead to the best outcomes for different people. And feed these insights back to improve the effectiveness of the treatments we deliver.

For example, we’ve found evidence in our data that different symptoms of depression are associated with specific depression subtypes, and that these subtypes respond preferentially to particular elements of therapy.

By understanding the relationship between a person’s symptoms and their response to treatment, we’ll be able to treat people faster and more effectively by accurately predicting which elements of therapy are most likely to work for them.

Why Nature Mental Health is a welcome newcomer

Looking ahead, we see an even bigger opportunity to advance mental health science and it’s one that will require an integrated, multidisciplinary, cross-sector effort. There’s huge potential to use insights from our large-scale, deidentified treatment dataset about what is working for whom to inspire new research questions about the biological, psychological and social mechanisms that drive real-world treatment response, and to translate the findings into smarter, more effective therapies.

A new era of integrated, multidisciplinary mental health science – united by initiatives like the new Nature Mental Health journal - has the power to deliver new knowledge that’s needed to:

  • Refine existing treatments so that they are more precise in targeting the underlying causes of mental health conditions.
  • Inspire new treatments.
  • Understand how to intelligently combine different treatments (e.g., psychological therapy, drug treatments and/or social interventions) to improve and maintain recovery.
  • Take a holistic approach to treating mental and physical health conditions.

Crucially, this effort should be underpinned by the expertise of people with lived experience, to ensure we identify research questions that are most likely to lead to meaningful benefits for those living with mental health conditions.

I’m excited to see the impact Nature Mental Health will have on bringing together diverse expertise to catalyse new joined-up research that ultimately delivers more effective mental healthcare for millions more people.

Dr Louise Marshall
ieso’s Director of Mental Health Research, Dr Louise Marshall, welcomes the launch of Nature Mental Health journal by the Springer Nature Group.