New data hub for mental health research

Digital brain connections, artificial intelligence

The Medical Research Council (MRC) has invested £2 million into a data research hub in partnership with Health Data Research UK.

The MRC investment announced today supports the establishment of a national data hub for mental health research – DATAMIND.

DATAMIND will provide innovative, high-value data resources for mental health research and innovation, enhancing discoverability and usability of diverse data sources to improve lives for people with mental health problems.

Integrated infrastructure

The hub will be led by:

  • Professor Ann John at Swansea University
  • Professor Rob Stewart at King’s College London.

It will be an integrated infrastructure with partners operating across all four nations of the UK. It will also improve the use of big data for mental health research by providing expert data services, tools and expertise to a wide range of users.

The investment builds on findings from the mental health data pathfinder awards funded by MRC in 2018 to support mental health researchers to harness the power of data science.

DATAMIND also joins an established network of health data research hubs, led by Health Data Research UK and funded through UKRI’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. The hubs aim to maximise the insights and innovations from health data. These hubs have made significant impacts in data improvement and have supported the research response to COVID-19, demonstrating the effectiveness of the hubs model.

Improving lives

Rich and unique sources of biological, clinical, social and environmental data exist in the UK.

The challenge is making this data discoverable and usable for researchers to deliver on its potential to improve diagnosis, treatment and ultimately prevention of mental health problems.

The hub will maximise the value of these data by bringing together diverse sources including:

  • health records
  • schools and administrative data
  • charity data
  • research trials
  • genomics
  • longitudinal studies
  • cohort data.

This will provide the evidence base to help address complex questions about mental health. It will improve our understanding of what works best to improve outcomes at a personalised and population level.

Young people and those often under-represented in research studies such as homeless and the traveller communities will be a priority focus. The hub will help researchers find and use data sets that encompass diverse population groups with the greatest clinical need.

Collaboration is key

DATAMIND will work closely with a wide range of users including academics, industry, NHS, policy makers, third sector and with input from patients and the public. This will help define:

  • the important research questions
  • what data is needed
  • how users can be supported to find and use data in safe and secure ways.

Involving the public, patients and people with lived experience of mental health problems is a critical part of the hub. Integrated at the outset and throughout the hub’s activities, this insight will inform the safe and responsible use of mental health data. It will accelerate opportunities for impact on patients and the public.

Collaboration across a range of disciplines will be supported by linking diverse data sets. The hub will reduce siloes between mental and physical health researchers, helping to understand this important interface and addressing the premature mortality experienced by people with severe mental illness.

Training and development across a range of multidisciplinary backgrounds is essential to support the next generation of the mental health data science workforce. The hub will join forces with MQ the mental health research charity to expand capacity and help the UK stay at the forefront of this crucial area.

Transforming our understanding

Professor Ann John, Swansea University, hub Co-Director, said:

We’re really excited about DATAMIND. By working together with the public, patients, researchers, industry and the NHS we will transform both our understanding of mental health and the lives of people experiencing mental health problems. We will create a hub where researchers and others can find and use mental health data to benefit patients and the public and improve care.

We know how important it is that people understand how their data is used and feel comfortable, which is why we will work closely with the public, patients, and those with personal experience to ensure these open conversations happen and that the highest standards of data security and privacy are met

Dr Sarah Markham, member of DATAMIND Independent Oversight Board, said:

This new mental-health data research hub, DATAMIND, has a significant potential to improve the lives of both mental health patients and the wider community of the UK. This is an incredibly exciting innovation.

Through my involvement I hope to help embed the principles of patient and public involvement and co-production in data linkage, sharing and use, and help to support and empower mental health patients in the context of data-driven research.

Further information

Top image: Credit: Olemedia/GettyImages

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