Child and young adult mental health – the underpinning aetiology of self-harm and eating disorders

September 2016


£2million funding for self harm and eating disorders. We are looking for new research to understand the underlying biology and psychology of these conditions.




As part of our continuing commitment to these important topics and in recognition of the niche nature of the pre-clinical research fields, the Medical Research Foundation (MRF) and Medical Research Council (MRC) will make available up to £2million for new high-quality, internationally competitive research partnerships to investigate the underlying bio-psycho-social mechanistic and environmental drivers i.e the aetiology and underpinning mechanisms of self-harm[1] or of eating disorders[2] in children, adolescents and young adults (up to 25 years). A key aim of this call is to encourage researchers already working in associated areas or on other relevant clinical research to re-prioritise these topics and enable the exploitation of existing resources and cohorts to develop hypotheses exploring the underlying biology and psychology of either of these diverse mental health conditions. Associated areas would include other mental health, medical or addictive conditions, for example ADHD, depression or obesity, or important traits which can underpin these conditions including anxiety, impulsivity and compulsivity. However, the primary driver of submitted applications must be to better understand eating disorders or self-harm.

The objective of this call is to provide funding to initiate new scientific partnerships across disciplines and new research activities, focused on basic science. The award could be used in a variety of ways to develop new research e.g. developing new platforms or achieving scientific strength through links between and within universities in the UK; progressing a new area and delivering new scientific insights which may lead on to larger future proposals. The awards are intended to be flexible – giving scope to support the early career development of new PIs, and/or to support linked work, or the new analysis of existing population datasets. The intention of the call is to develop a pipeline of research in order to better understand the underlying mechanisms and heterogeneity of these mental health conditions. The resulting insights into causal or mechanistic understanding should aim to inform future prevention and treatment studies in the longer-term. A competitive second phase of funding may be made available to provide further funding for one or a number of proposals funded under the first phase.

[1] Self-harm includes intentional self-injury and self-poisoning regardless of suicidal or non-suicidal intent .This therefore includes deliberate, self-inflicted destruction of body tissue and for purposes not socially sanctioned, includes behaviours such as cutting, burning, biting and scratching skin.

[2] Eating disorders are syndromes characterised by significant disturbances in eating behaviour and by distress or excessive concern about body shape or weight. Presentation varies, but eating disorders often occur with severe medical or psychiatric comorbidity (Cleveland Clinic Centre).



The MRC’s Strategic Plan (2014-2019) stated objective in mental health and wellbeing is ‘to explore the risk factors for poor mental health and the relationship between mental and physical health, wellbeing and resilience to disease processes’. In 2015 the ONS report on ‘Insights into children’s mental health and well-being’ reported that in the UK 1 in 8 children aged 10 to 15 reported symptoms of mental ill-health in 2011 to 2012.  It is well understood that this is the period where pervasive mental health issues often emerge and that adolescents with poor mental health have relatively worse prospects throughout their adult life.

The MRF’s strategy for improving human health is to identify diseases and conditions that are a high impact to individuals and society but where the research investment is comparatively low, and provide funding for key opportunities that have the potential to transform the research base.

All areas of discovery research relevant to the MRF’s and MRC’s remit will be considered and applicants are encouraged to explore how awards could be used to develop interactions across different topics. Applicants who are proposing to apply their knowledge of a different research field would be particularly welcomed. The exploitation of the samples and data associated with existing cohorts and clinical population groups and a strong clinical research base is particularly encouraged. Applications may be broad in scope or focused on a particular aspect of these heterogeneous mental health conditions, it is expected that all applications will appropriately acknowledge the complexity and variability of these conditions. The awards can be used to initiate and build critical mass and capacity in underexplored, high-potential areas of research. However, applicants will need to demonstrate credible scientific capability in relevant areas, at the time of application.

The funding is not intended to support the continuation of existing research grants or groups, staff between posts/funding (ie as “bridging” funds), or MSc or PhD studentships


How to apply

General guidance:

The usual MRC funding and eligibility rules apply. Please see the MRC Guidance for Applicants for information regarding eligibility. If you have any queries relating to the eligibility criteria or the remit of your research then please contact the scheme manager – Mrs Sam Palmer –

All applications must be submitted no later than 4pm on 31st January 2017 utilising the MRC’s Joint Electronic Submission system and the guidance on this can be here.

Applicants are reminded of their responsibility to engage with their Research Office  and discuss the time period required by the host RO requires to complete all the necessary application checks before completing the final electronic submission (through Je-S), to MRC.

Call specific guidance

  • Cover letter (optional)
  • Separate CVs and List of Publications for PI, Co-Is and each named researcher
  • Case for Support (maximum 6 sides of A4; refer to guidance) (available to download from the MRC’s website)

Key dates

Activity Date
Call open for applications in Je-S 28 September 2016
Application deadline 31 January 2017 (16:00 BST)
Review period February 2017
Panel meeting 27 February 2017
Decision to applicants 17 March 2017

Available funds and eligibility

Up to £2M is available to support high quality research proposals submitted to this call. The award will be for up to two years and MRF/MRC funds will be available for this duration. The MRF is the majority funder of this call and a registered charity and as such its funding is not subject to FEC and therefore applications will be awarded at 60% FEC. Subject to the submission of proposals of sufficient research quality, it is anticipated at least 6 awards of £200-300k will be made during this first phase of funding. However, in exceptional cases a larger request for funding may be justified based on the costs of a particular scientific approach to a novel study. Decisions will be taken in March 2017.



Applicants wishing to apply for this scheme are encouraged to contact the MRC’s Programme Manager for Mental Health and Addiction, Dr Joanna Jenkinson (, in the first instance, to discuss the prospective bid.