What we’re learning on research and prevention in mental health

For Mental Health Awareness Week 2019, we are excited to share emerging learning from our work helping to catalyse preventative approaches to mental health.


Written by

Douglas Sloan, Managing Director

A large and increasing proportion of the UK population experience mental ill health which is contributing to an unmet need for mental health services particularly amongst vulnerable and disadvantaged groups. Our conversations with people working across the mental health system suggest there is increasing focus on preventative interventions, such as self-management, peer-to-peer support networks, e-therapy, and integrated care with mental health practitioners. However, there are barriers to the adoption and scaling of innovative solutions such as generating evidence, with evidence-building pathways often long, complex and expensive. We believe there is a role for social investment in creating a shift towards preventative solutions and enabling better integration between the world of research and the world of social innovation. To learn more about these barriers, and the ways to overcome them, we are partnering with The Wellcome Trust on a ‘Research to Venture Mental Health Programme’. The programme seeks to enable collaboration across the worlds of research, impact, and early stage venture development. Our shared goal is to enable the creation of preventative mental health solutions in response to the real needs of individuals. To achieve this, the programme is testing different ways to support and finance organisations that aim to improve people’s mental health through user-led research. The programme is funded by The Wellcome Trust and brings together the expertise of Big Society Capital in social impact investing, Bethnal Green Ventures in venture acceleration, and Zinc in venture incubation. The programme is helping 16 ventures, each of whom are seeking to empower people to more effectively manage their mental health using digital tools. These ventures are tackling issues including perinatal and childhood mental health, workplace provision for employee’s emotional wellbeing, and peer support platforms around mindful drinking and youth self-harm prevention. We are only part way through the programme, but we are learning a lot already. Emerging insights from the programme and conversations with those involved include:

  • Collaboration can deliver better mental health outcomes – Successful collaboration between researchers and ventures can generate better outcomes for people with, or at risk of, mental ill health, through robust evidence-based solutions that are user-centred and help address potential health inequalities.
  • Flexible financing and support structures are key – Approaches that address gaps in funding pathways, and are adapted to the needs of social ventures at different stages of development, can allow those organisations the freedom to test solutions and allocate resources more effectively
  • The nature of partnerships matter – dedicated research funding has enabled ventures to strengthen and formalise relationships with research institutions, adding credibility and helping to unlock further opportunities for support or funding.

We look forward to learning more as this programme progresses and will share what we discover later this year. If you would like to find out more about our work in this area or would like to collaborate with us, please email Douglas Sloan at dsloan@bigsocietycapital.com

or Reem Akl at rakl@bigsocietycapital.com

If you are worried about your mental health, or that of someone you know, help is available.

  • The Samaritans offer emotional support 24 hours a day - in full confidence. Call Free on 116 123.
  • Mind provide confidential mental health information services. Telephone: 0300 123 3393 (9am-6pm Monday to Friday) or text 86463