Louise Arseneault is a Professor of Developmental Psychology at King's College London. Her research focusses on the impact of social relationships on mental health across the life span. She investigates the consequences of violence in childhood including bullying and maltreatment. She also examines loneliness and social support.
As part of this new series, we spoke to Louise about things in life she's learned, her influences and her inspirations...
I always wanted to be an archaeologist. My father read a lot of books about Egypt and really transmitted to me this passion about archaeology and discoveries. The first time I went abroad when I was 20 was to Egypt - it remains the most memorable trip. The funny thing is, I consider what I do now to not be far away from an archaeologist. As a researcher, I make discoveries and feel the excitement that I wanted to feel when I was a child. It’s come full circle.
I’ve worked in mental health research for 25 years. In that time, I’ve seen much greater recognition of mental health as an issue - it really matters to society now. In terms of methodology, we’ve also improved. When I started doing my PhD, many longitudinal studies had just begun and it’s amazing to see the outcomes of these so many years later. The fact that they’ve continued is absolutely stunning.
Like many women, believing in myself is something I’ve always struggled with. I think doubts can be important reality checks, but I would never want them to prevent me from achieving things in life. My friends are really good at helping me navigate between those two boundaries of not being too confident, but having the confidence to go for what I want in life.
The fact that 75% of mental illness starts before 18 justifies everything I do. I remember when that stat was first published in 2003 by my colleagues Julia Kim Cohen, Temi Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi. We knew this number for a long time and now it seems to be everywhere. But as researchers we have a huge responsibility to shout about these findings so they reach the people who can make a difference.
So many people are affected by mental health, but we don't understand it enough. I think we’re doing the best we can with very little resource, but we have a long way to go - and researchers often work in siloes. We need a society project to really come together to change the way that people perceive mental health and tackle how it’s funded. MQ reminds us that we’re all doing our work for a reason - not to compete for the next round of funding, or the next paper - but to solve the problems associated with mental health and reduce the suffering for many people. That’s really important.
5 years ago I was injected into a life completely different to my day-to-day. I spent 3 months volunteering on a safari lodge in Zambia. I’d been there on holiday and kept in touch with the manager, wo asked me to come back for a season. I look back on that time so fondly - all the skills I used in London were not applicable, but I learned so much. My favourite moments were watching guests see lions for the first time. It was extraordinary to share that moment with so many people.
As researchers, it can be hard to keep the flame alive. I’m not just a researcher but an accountant, a project manager , a mentor - so many things that are just part of the job. I would never have dreamt of doing something so exciting, but I think it's always important to remember why I do what I do. I'm very lucky to be surrounded by fantastic collaborators, students and postdocs who feed that feeling.
The idea of life’s cycle is not to scratch it. I don't want to be remembered, really. I'm very realistic to the fact that we're here for a short time, we do the best that we can and life goes on. We all contribute a little, and life has brought me opportunities that I try to make sure I make the most of. But it’s not for me to say how someone else remembers me.
Last updated: 15 May 2019