A new data hub to facilitate mental health research and bring together “some of the best evidence and expertise in the field” has been launched by a Scottish university.

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh say the DATAMIND hub will speed up research that aims to improve the lives of people who suffer with mental health problems – the leading cause of disability in the UK.

According to experts, the new UK-wide project will overcome some of the key challenges of mental health research, such as inclusion of patients experiencing the most extreme symptoms.

It also has the potential to improve diagnosis, treatment and wellbeing for people with a number of psychiatric conditions.

The digital resource will operate across the four nations of the UK, bringing together expertise from the NHS, universities, charities and the pharmaceutical industry.

Scientists and doctors at the University of Edinburgh form part of the senior leadership team and will lead Scottish efforts to combine UK-wide health datasets, ensuring that patients, families and healthcare providers quickly gain from new knowledge.

Edinburgh academics will also lead on the future sustainability of the hub.

Mental ill-health is the biggest cause of disability in the UK, but research shows that people living with a mental illness are less likely to take part in research than other conditions.

This means that some studies do not have enough participants to draw strong conclusions and often do not represent those with the worst symptoms.

The DATAMIND hub will overcome some of these issues by securely bringing together existing data from diverse sources, including NHS healthcare records. 

It is funded by a £2m investment from the UK research and innovation (UKRI) Medical Research Council and joins an established network of health data research hubs, led by Health Data Research UK (HDR-UK) and funded through UKRI’s industry strategy challenge fund.

DATAMIND is the third HDR-UK backed data hub at the University of Edinburgh, building on the university’s ‘expertise in safe and secure use of healthcare data’. Existing hubs have made ‘significant’ impacts in data improvement and have supported the research response to Covid-19 in areas including vaccine rollout.

Professor Andrew McIntosh from the department of psychiatry at the University of Edinburgh University said: “Edinburgh is proud to be a partner in this initiative, which will focus on including disadvantaged and excluded groups of people affected by mental disorders. In other words, the most severely affected people and in greatest need of help.

“This investment in mental health data science will strengthen our capacity to support mental health research, building upon previous UKRI mental health data science investments and MQ’s early work in bringing the UK’s mental health data science community together. MQ is the major UK charity dedicated to mental health research and the development of DATAMIND reflects the fruits of its sustained efforts over many years.”

Professor Ann John from Swansea University and co-director of DATAMIND, added: “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.”