Dr Helen Fisher is one of MQ’s researchers, carrying out ground breaking research to better understand psychosis – what causes it in children, and how we can limit the damage it does. She took a bit of time to talk us through her work and her hopes for the future:
What are psychotic symptoms?
Psychotic symptoms could include hearing or seeing things that other people don’t. They could be believing things that aren’t true (for example, that other people are trying to hurt you). Or they could lead you to have very disorganised thinking, and make it difficult to concentrate on one thing.
About one in ten children experience psychosis at some point in their childhood – that’s almost three children in every class. The symptoms are often extremely distressing, but they do not always lead to mental illness.
Research suggests though that if symptoms carry on into teenage years, they can be a sign of schizophrenia and suicidal tendencies in adulthood.
What causes childhood psychosis and what are the risk factors?
There are several potential risk factors that may increase the chances of a child developing psychotic symptoms.
One of the ones I’ve been looking at first is children who’ve been exposed to trauma or adverse events, such as abuse or severe bullying.
Tell us about your research?
My research is looking at why some children are particularly at risk of experiencing childhood psychosis – why some of those who develop the symptoms get better; whilst others go on to develop anxiety, depression, schizophrenia or even attempt suicide in adulthood.
We hope to find ways to limit, or even prevent, the long-term damage that psychosis can cause to a young person’s mental health. And help us to target new therapies that will make a difference to children most at risk.
How do you hope your research will impact people’s lives?
We want to understand what triggers the development and persistence of childhood psychotic symptoms.
This means that in the future we could screen children who might be at risk so we can perhaps prevent the symptoms of psychosis from happening at all.
And if we can identify the triggers, we could actually target those in therapy and hopefully improve their longer-term mental health as well.
What would you like to say to the supporters who fund your work through MQ?
It’s an honour to be a part of a growing community of people who care deeply about bettering our understanding mental illness – and providing absolutely essential funding for new mental health research. It really is a team effort and I have no doubt that, together, we will transform mental health.
Last updated: 2 June 2016