Improving the health of people with mental and physical health problems: A local research priority setting exercise 

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by Ruth Wadman and Liz Newbronner

A key objective for our Mental Health theme is to establish the most pressing research priorities at the interface between mental and physical health. To do this we are setting up a local research priority setting exercise. We are working collaboratively with a steering group involving people with experience of mental health problems and clinicians. Our focus is on improving the health of people with severe mental illnesses and physical health problems (who’s life expectancy is reduced by up to 20 years).

We want to give people living with both mental and physical health problems, their families, and the health and social care professionals who treat and support them, a voice in deciding the most important questions to be answered by future research.

Our approach to doing this research priority setting exercise has needed to change, given the pandemic restrictions. In light of this we have developed a more contained priority setting process which can be carried out entirely online or via telephone, and which incorporates research priorities identified in recent research reviews and initiatives.

In our ‘light-touch’ review of the research literature, we identified some important unanswered research questions about improving the health of people with mental and physical health problems: 

  • Research into interventions that can address both physical and mental health (e.g. access to natural environment, playing sport)
  • The value of ‘lifestyle psychiatry’ (i.e. role of sleep, diet, exercise, smoking in preventing and treating mental illness)
  • How best to implement existing and effective lifestyle interventions with people with serious mental illness
  • Medication – balancing symptom control against side effects such as weight gain, and the importance of involving service users in treatment decisions
  • How to minimise the ‘illness work’ involved in living with mental and physical health problems
  • How to develop clinical tools for comprehensive lifestyle assessment (looking at mental and physical health in context of person’s life)

Our next step is to run a survey, asking key stakeholders what they think are important topics for research looking at the health of people with mental and physical health problems. We will ask people living with both mental and physical health problems to complete the survey, and the people who support them (carers, families, health and social care professionals).

Our aim is to identify unanswered questions about what would help people with mental health problems look after their physical health. Working with communities and partner organisation from across Yorkshire and Humber we will then prioritise those that are the most important for research to address and plan how we might respond to them. 

If you are interested in taking part in this survey, we have uploaded the link to the survey on our News page.

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