Former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell and actor Stephen Fry have joined scientists and campaigners in calling for a trebling of mental health research spending within five years.
The Research Mental Health Initiative, launched this week, said the disproportionately low spend compared with the economic and social costs of mental illness was holding back developments in treatment.
At £74m, total UK research spending on mental health has remained practically unchanged since 2004-5, a figure dwarfed by spending on cancer, even though both conditions carry a similar disease burden.
In 2004-5, cancer and mental health each accounted for about 15% of the disease burden in the UK, but cancer received 25% of health research funding compared with 5% for mental health.
The Mental Health Foundation and King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, which are leading the campaign, said this should be increased to £200m by 2014.
The call is made in a “Declaration” issued this week to the government, the NHS, funding bodies, research institutions, the pharmaceuticals industry and the third sector.
Signatories believe the funding hike will lead to new treatments being developed over the next 20 years, in the same way investment in cancer research has doubled survival rates over the past 30 years.
The campaign says mental health research is focused on genetic and biological causes, with only a little spent on therapeutic approaches to mental illness.
“Many promising treatments never reach people with a mental illness who desperately need them because of a lack of research and evidence,” said Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation.
The campaign wants enhanced research to be focused on depression, schizophrenia, severe and enduring mental illnesses as well as adolescent mental health issues.