Mental health is a National Health Priority Area and a strategic priority for NHMRC research support.

Over the past decade (2009-2018), NHMRC has invested an average of $71.7 million per annum in mental health research, most of which has been directed towards research into specific disorders and mental health conditions. This investment in mental health research is significant, yet fragmented. There is a national need to encourage greater collaboration aimed at fostering a multidisciplinary approach that will bring together researchers and stakeholders, breaking down silos and encouraging innovation in mental health research and care.

Over the last two years, NHMRC has been working with the mental health research community to understand the current spread of investments in mental health, key areas of research need and how a strategic investment by NHMRC would best be made. NHMRC has also been consulting with key mental health policy and funding bodies to explore opportunities for this strategic investment to complement other initiatives.

In September 2017 NHMRC established the Mental Health Research Advisory Committee (MHRAC), drawn from the health and medical research sector, to advise on priorities in this area. MHRAC met on five occasions and finalised its advice to NHMRC in October 2018. MHRAC recommended that NHMRC fund a national collaborative network following further consultations to define the research focus and the nature of the network.

A stakeholder workshop was convened in April 2019 to build on MHRAC’s advice and refine the parameters for a NHMRC Special Initiative in Mental Health (SIMH). Attendees included clinicians, researchers, policy makers, philanthropists, health services and carers and consumers, reflecting a broad range of perspectives, experience and roles.

NHMRC engaged with the National Mental Health Commission (NMHC), the Million Minds Mission Advisory Panel and the Department of Health on how best to identify potential partners and pathways for developing a funding call to establish a national centre for innovation in mental health care that will support a collaborative network and to ensure complementarity with the Medical Research Future Fund investments under the Million Minds Mission. NHMRC has also consulted with the Mental Health Principal Committee and Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council about jurisdictional support for this national centre.

The proposed national centre is aligned with the work led by the NMHC to develop a research strategy for the mental health sector and the Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan.

NHMRC will open a funding call to support a multidisciplinary and nationally focussed team to establish a national centre for innovation in mental health care as a collaborative network across Australia (involving key institutions, existing national networks in mental health, and other relevant bodies). The SIMH will undertake innovative, high quality implementation research to improve health outcomes and outlooks for people living with mental illness. The centre will operate as a virtual network across Australia, coordinated by a single institution acting as an administrative hub. The centre will include flagship programs to focus the network’s activities on each of the identified research themes. Flagships, which may be based at participating institutions, should be open to a broad membership of researchers, clinicians, carers and consumers in mental health to facilitate innovative service delivery across Australia.

A Forecast Opportunity has been published on GrantConnect.