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NHMRC funding of mental health research

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A case for better alignment of research funding with burden of disease

Mental health research has long been the poor cousin in medical research, despite mental illness being both an independent and comorbid risk factor for every major medical disease, and a significant contributor to morbidity and mortality. Of the five major non-communicable disease areas, mental illness has the largest impact on the world economy by reducing gross domestic product.1 Yet, 11 times more money is donated from the private and corporate sectors to cancer research than to mental health research. In addition, cancer research receives twice the funding from governments.2

This pattern is reflected in the funding distribution from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in Australia, where mental health research has received a lower proportion of NHMRC health funding compared with other National Health Priority Areas such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Between 2001 and 2010, for example, mental health received about 9.5% of NHMRC funding.3 NHMRC funding for suicide research was lower than funding for falls, skin cancer and motor vehicle accidents, despite the fact that suicide is responsible for more deaths.4 In 2015, when NHMRC announced the membership of its strategic committees, there…