As many as one in three people in Belgium are likely to encounter a mental health problem of some sort during their lifetime. Yet, research funding on the matter continues to receive considerably less funding than on physical health, which is perpetuating the knowledge gap.
Aside from a large group of the population being affected by mental health problems, they also have a significant social impact. Despite the urgency to understand these types of illnesses better, research on it is lacking as outlined by a new advisory report by the High Health Council.
"Research on mental health is less developed and significantly underfunded compared to research on physical health," stated the report, which is also supported by a large number of academic authorities and stakeholders.
Research in the field lags behind due to a longstanding lack of funding. "The lack of data on mental health problems (from primary care to highly specialised care) has become painfully obvious," the report read, adding that this was particularly clear during the pandemic when more money was invested into research on Covid-19.
Meanwhile, fragmented research by various interest groups and organisations has shown that the pandemic fuelled many mental health problems, which is all the more worrying as this also triggered a loss of funding for this aspect of people's health.
Funding wrongly invested
The report highlighted that the scarce funding which does go towards mental health issues is usually invested into basic research, while a far smaller budget goes towards prevention, detection, screening and diagnosis, treatment, disease management and innovative care where "the need is the greatest."
"This situation makes the practical implementation of policy decisions all the more difficult," the report stated. Most funding also goes to research on adults, while most problems develop before the age of 24.
In light of these findings, the High Health Council has formulated three recommendations to organise, stimulate and promote scientific research and cooperation on mental health in the country.
- People with mental illnesses sometimes disadvantaged when getting insurance
- One in three Belgians feels 'very lonely'
These include creating a platform for knowledge exchange where all research on mental health is collected, improving data quality to compare and share these more easily, as well as to incorporate these into the design of new studies in the future, and developing a common and strategic research agenda.