What impact does bullying have on mental health? How could we prevent the development of conditions like schizophrenia? What are the causes of OCD? These were just some of the questions leading scientists sought to tackle at our third Mental Health Science meeting in London last week.
The event is at the heart of our commitment to take on mental illness in young people – helping to turn our promise into reality. For two days a cross-section of researchers including neuroscientists, data scientists, psychiatrists and social scientists came together along with service users, to share ideas and discuss solutions to some of the biggest challenges in mental health.
From understanding the processes in the brain that occur in mental illness, to establishing the importance of biological, psychological and social risk factors – the talks offered a huge variety of lively - and topical - debates.
We were pleased to welcome many MQ-funded researchers to present their work.
Hugo Critchley talked about his innovative work to tackle anxiety disorders. He started off by asking the audience whether they could feel their own heartbeat – and then explained that by improving the brain’s ability to process changes in the body related to stress we may be able to develop new effective treatments for anxiety.
Susanne Ahmari, who’s part of our Fellows Programme, spoke about improving treatments for OCD through better understanding how the brain engages in loops of obsessions and compulsions.
The risk factors causing mental illness, such as bullying, were also a key area of debate. We heard from Louise Arsenault and MQ-funded researcher Jean-Baptiste Pingault on the impact that bullying has on mental health. Louise raised the relatively controversial point that you can predict who is more likely to get bullied and this should be the focus for intervention.
Across the board, there was agreement on the importance of intervening early to better prevent and treat mental illness. We heard from Myrna Weissman who spoke about how those with parents or grandparents that have faced depression are more likely to develop the condition themselves. To break that cycle she proposed screening pregnant women, so they can be treated early on. Whilst Mary Cannon explored whether psychotic symptoms such as hearing voices in childhood mean a child is more likely to develop a disorder later on in life.
There were also exciting debates on preventing disorders like schizophrenia in early development. Ezra Susser made the case that micronutrients given prenatally – like folic acid – can prevent brain disorders, whilst Jonathan Mill and Carmen Sandi explored the role of genetics. Carmen spoke about the ways in which a certain gene could explain why someone displays behaviours seen in schizophrenia.
As two days of lively debate and exchanges of ideas came to end, we closed 2017’s Mental Health Science Meeting feeling inspired about the potential for research has to transform lives - and more committed than ever to take on the challenge.
Last updated: 15 January 2018