Use of Evidence in Mental Health Policy

A recent Psychiatric Services article by Anna Williamson, Ph.D., and her colleagues in entitled “How Can the Use of Evidence in Mental Health Policy Be Increased? A Systematic Review (PDF - 704 KB)” explores what is known about the effectiveness of strategies to increase the use of research in mental health policies. The authors argue that to address the gap between science and services for mental health, policy changes are needed to incentivize the use of evidence-based practices. While the use of evidence in development of mental health policy and programs becomes increasingly important to governments and decisionmakers internationally, few theories address how to increase the use of research evidence in mental health policy. This systematic review examines what is known about the extent to which strategies to increase the use of research in mental health policies are effective. The literature search turned up 2,677 citations and an additional 50 articles through reference list scanning. Ultimately nine qualifying studies were identified that both tested an intervention and included policymakers as part of the intervention. The authors conclude: “More systematic, scientifically rigorous attempts to increase the use of evidence in mental health policy – or event to document the process by which evidence is taken up in policy development – are needed if substantive, and lasting changes are to be made.”

Commentary(PDF - 408 KB) on this article by Michael Hogan, PhD, (NIAC) was also published in Psychiatric Services. The author notes that while advocacy for addressing the science-to-service gap in mental health has gained momentum over the last two decades, there is little evidence that the gap is closing. Indeed, he concludes that considering the status of the field and the scant number of articles identified in the review “we are facing a chasm, not a mere gap.” He argues that a focus on evidence-based mental health care among the “mainstream policy makers” is needed to improve the overall quality of mental health care.