National mental health policy 2008

2.10 Building and using the evidence base

Page last updated: 2009

Rigorous research and evaluation efforts generate new knowledge about mental health problems and mental illness that can reduce the impact of these conditions.
Achieving optimal individual outcomes for people with mental health problems and mental illness depends on a strong evidence base. However, scientific knowledge about mental health and mental illness has traditionally lagged behind that of other areas of health. Greater understanding of the incidence and prevalence of mental health problems and mental illness is required, as is improved understanding of the varying courses of specific conditions. More information is also needed about the risk and protective factors for mental health problems and mental illness, and the causal pathways by which these factors might operate. Evaluative evidence on the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of different interventions across all mental health services is a priority, particularly given the expanded emphasis on innovative, inter-sectoral models of care.

Gathering evidence of this type requires that greater priority be given to innovative mental health research in a range of fields, including the biomedical, psychological and social sciences, program evaluation and health economics. At present, there is limited evidence as to how best to tailor assessment and treatment for specific populations, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and people from culturally diverse backgrounds.

Research should focus on enhancing the capacity of the mental health sector to address gaps and improve service delivery through synthesis, dissemination and utilisation of new knowledge. Existing evidence should be assembled, and gaps in the evidence should receive particular research and evaluation attention. A variety of stakeholders, including people with mental illness and their carers, should be involved in research and evaluation activities.

There should be ongoing dialogue between researchers, decision-makers, service providers and other stakeholders to ensure that research is designed, conducted and disseminated in a manner that will have maximum impact on mental health policy and service development and implementation. As knowledge builds and a cohesive evidence base develops, information should be disseminated in a manner that is most likely to influence individual outcomes for people with mental health problems and mental illness. The management, design and governance of services should be directed to reinforce uptake of evidence-based service provision.