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Mental Health Research UK appoints new Chair Professor Sir Michael Owen

I am honoured and delighted to be taking over as chair of the trustees of Mental Health Research UK (MHRUK). I am also a little daunted; Clair Chilvers will be a very hard act to follow. As you can see from her recent blog, with the help of one or two others, she essentially conjured the charity out of thin air back in 2008. Since then, she has devoted her considerable skills and much effort to making MHRUK the success it is today. I am sure that you will want to join me in thanking Clair for all that she has done for MHRUK. I am also very pleased (and relieved!) that she is staying on as a trustee and has agreed to work closely with me in the coming years.

Of course, Clair has not done this on her own. She has been guided by our trustees and supported by a small and extremely dedicated group of volunteers. These, and particularly David Riggs our administrator, have been the beating heart of the charity. The fact that MHRUK is entirely run by volunteers means that we may sometimes struggle to appear slick and corporate, but crucially it means that, unlike many other charities, we are able to ensure that over 95% of the value of donations go into funding research.

Who am I? I am an academic psychiatrist employed by Cardiff University. I have been researching the causes of mental illnesses, particularly schizophrenia, for most of my career and was head of a large academic department for over 20 years. I also worked as a consultant psychiatrist in the NHS for many years so have some insight into the impact that these conditions can have on individuals and their families. Although much of my research has been fairly biological, I believe that a proper understanding of the causes of mental illnesses and the development of better treatments and therapies requires research to encompass biological, psychological and social factors. MHRUK has always supported projects across a broad range of disciplines and I envisage that this will continue.

My belief is that MHRUK should also continue its mission of building capacity in mental health research by supporting PhD students and early career researchers from a range of different backgrounds. We will continue in our aim to support excellent students working in the best departments on the best projects. We will also continue to involve those with lived experience of mental illness in our work, aided by Vanessa Pinfold and the McPin Foundation.

I do have some plans though. First, I would like to actively involve a younger and more diverse group of academics in our work by appointing them to a new Scientific Committee. I see this as essential for a number of reasons: to engage a broader range of opinions and experiences in our funding decisions; to publicise our work in academic and other communities more widely; and to lay broader and deeper foundations for our future development. Second, I would like us to develop our plans for financial sustainability in the medium to long term. This is not say that we are under any financial threat at present. Indeed, thanks to the amazing efforts of our supporters we are currently in a strong position despite the challenges of the current pandemic. But the future is uncertain given the economic impact of COVID and we cannot be complacent. The other side of the coin is that society has become much more aware of the need for mental health research, and I am hoping that we can find new and innovative ways to raise funds and increase the amount of research we can fund.

I wanted to end by thanking all of our loyal supporters who have done so much to help us get to where we are now and, more importantly, to help us fund and develop the next generation of mental health researchers. There is so much to do, and so many opportunities to improve the outlook for those with mental illnesses. I look forward to getting to know many of you better over the coming years and working with you to realise our ambitions.

Mike Owen

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