“Happiness czar” Richard Layard and shadow health secretary Andy Burnham were among the panel launching the document at Westminster on November.
The booklet is the ninth in the Making the Case for the Social Sciences series, which has been issued by the Campaign for Social Science since 2011.
Counselling services now rolled out to all Welsh secondary schools were just one striking example of what can happen when governments are willing to take on board the lessons of serious academic research, the report says.
Other case studies explore how research has fed into more effective policy-making on everything from reducing prisoner suicides to combating alcohol misuse among adolescents and delivering employability support in Northern Ireland.
Mike Shooter, president of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, one of the supporters of the report, described his own “recurrent depressive disorder”, which had been alleviated by the Samaritans, and then by medication and counselling – and had led to his own decision to become a psychiatrist.
Working in deprived Welsh mining communities, he had often been “struck by rare examples of families and children who were not only surviving but thriving”. An increasing trend to study such “resilience” could only provide valuable data in tackling major social problems.
Lord Layard, programme director at the London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance, described how he had long been “trying to understand the main causes of misery” and noted that “mental illness sticks out like a sore thumb as by far the most significant”.
He went on to recall a story of someone who had been told by a computer: “Your search for happiness has produced no results.” There was every reason to hope that social scientists could do a lot better than that.
Life in the mining community he represented, said Mr Burnham, “used to be physically dangerous but emotionally safe. Now in the 21st century we have the opposite situation…The social side of care was excluded from the original NHS settlement, so it was built around a medical treatment model which plays down the social aspects.”
Praising the CSS booklet and Lord Layard’s research in particular, he added that it was now “time for a whole-person approach to care”, where “people had a right to therapy as well as Nice- [National Institute for Health and Care Excellence] approved medication”.