Where can I find out about potential charity funding for my study? If you aren’t a well-established researcher, it can be very difficult to know where to start. Even if you are, mental health remains an underfunded area with far fewer charities with either open or themed calls compared to other health conditions. But there are starting points. We worked with Vanessa Pinfold, Chair of the Alliance for Mental Health Funders and Director of the McPin Foundation, on this guide to help mental health researchers navigate a tricky and sparse funding landscape.
The Alliance of Mental Health Research Funders is a consortium of 17 charities with a strong interest in mental health research. The members can broadly be categorised using three groups:
Mental health research funders (sole interest)
Mental Health Research UK (MHRUK) and MQ are both charities whose primary aim is to fund mental health research. They were both set up about 10 years ago. Everything they do is structured around the importance of mental health research and raising funds to invest in new programmes of research.
MHRUK has a PhD scholarship programme with calls for applications once a year – they are often themed calls such as children and young people’s mental health or schizophrenia research. MQ invests every year into new research including an MQ Fellows Award scheme. The MQ Fellows Award supports early career scientists who are asking challenging questions that will contribute to transformative advances in mental health research. The next MQ Fellows Awards round launches in Feb 2022 on the theme of preventing early death. A newer charity in Scotland is called Miricyl with a focus on digital solutions for young people and their family and carers affected by mental illness. There are some charities, often set up in memory of a family member who died that focus on one aspect of mental health research including Orchard OCD that have calls for proposals every two years and The Foundation for Young People’s Mental Health (YPMH) which focuses on supporting the translation of research into innovations in practice and policy. Both work with specific academic teams as well as issuing general research calls. Other research charities with a focus on a particular condition, for example Autistica, which focuses on autism, are health research charities which fund mental health as part of their portfolio.
Mental health research funding is one aspect of their work (and often a very small part).
There are quite a few charities in this group. Some issue commissions to evaluate work being undertaken internally such as Mind, the Samaritans, Mental Health Foundation, and NSPCC as well as research projects on specific topics. They tend to issue a tender specification and have to respond and are scored against set criteria. There are also charities who fund research alongside policy, training and campaigning activities. This can be funding a professorship position such as Charlie Waller Trust, or funding occasional PhD students as in McPin Foundation. The British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) occasionally provides financial support for students undertaking PhD research in counselling and psychotherapy, and offers bursaries and award schemes to help support researchers who are contributing to the evidence-base for the counselling professions. Other institutions such as the Maudsley Charity fund a mix of mental health research and non-research projects. It aims to have national impact but its primary focus is South London.
Mental health research funder allies
There are charities whose work relies on research, who help champion the importance of mental health research and may themselves occasionally fund research activities. From our Alliance this includes the Centre for Mental Health where research is a major part of their own activities, and Bipolar UK.
“There is no equivalent of CRUK or BHF for mental health. I think the bottom line is very few charity mental health funders have open funding calls. But they do have calls from time to time so it’s a good idea to sign up to their newsletters and follow them on twitter”.
Overall, it’s worth making links and keeping an eye on the charity sector as organisations do issue one off calls and new charities set up – such as the Prudence Trust which focuses on young people’s mental health including research for invited applicants. It’s also a good idea to get on the mailing lists so you make sure you hear about the opportunities as soon as they arise.