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WHO event explores future of mental health care

Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) has hosted 18 experts from five European countries to discuss and explore options for how mental health care could be provided in the future.

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Mental health care has improved over the last few decades in line with increased funding, but there have been no new significant research discoveries or service models. Innovation is therefore required, and by looking at the way past innovation has been carried out, this is likely to be driven by social values and social models.

QMUL’s Unit for Social and Community Psychiatry, in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), has been looking at how new social scenarios could drive forward the science and practice of mental health care.

Professor Stefan Priebe, the Director of QMUL’s WHO Collaborating Centre, said: “This has been an exciting and most encouraging event. Ideas of social psychiatry may lead to real innovation and possibly radical changes of how mental health care works in the future, what research will focus on, and how professionals will be trained. These changes may take time to materialise, but research at QMUL aims to contribute to them and begin to shape them now.”

The discussion considered different future social scenarios, how they might progress research and practice in psychiatry, and what this would mean for the training of professionals.

By the end of the event, four speculative potential scenarios of future mental health care were designed:

  • Mental health care would be determined by human rights issues and without coercion. Patients will control service models and the funding of their care. Psychiatrists will actively engage with politicians to advocate for human rights of patients.
  • The social context of individuals would be modified in order to improve their mental health. This will require a deeper understanding of how social interactions influence mental health and better research methods for studying these interactions and developing new interventions.
  • Mental health care would be provided almost exclusively via online tools and only emergency services will be available on a local basis. Care will be largely virtual using artificial intelligence, linking patients to both real and virtual social contacts.
  • Mental health care would be part of an integrated and holistic health care for socially marginalised groups. Access to services will be regulated based on social deprivation.

The team will continue to work on developing and revising these scenarios, with a view to publishing their final findings in the near future.

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