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Lunch Hour Lecture: Childhood maltreatment through the lens of neuroscience and epigenetics

Thomas Hughes26 February 2016

How do childhood experiences affect a child’s propensity to mental health issues later in life? Can childhood trauma be directly linked to higher rates of depression and anxiety? In this Lunch Hour Lecture by Professor Eamon McCrory (UCL Psychology and Language Sciences), he demonstrated how epigenetics and neurocognitive research is helping to understand how brains adapt to adversity.

As society is beginning to recognise the importance of mental health, more effort has been put into finding how the brain processes this abuse or neglect in children so that we can formulate preventative treatment.

Parts of the brain affected by abuse and trauma.

Parts of the brain affected by abuse and trauma.

Rats and the epigenetics of nurture

Professor McCrory started by talking about epigenetics research with rats. Those brought up in a nurturing environment, where the mother cares for the young, grow up to demonstrate less stress and anxiety. They also grow up to be nurturing parents themselves.

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Still “crazy” after all these years?

ucyow3c10 March 2014

diversity-month2014pencil-iconWritten by Danelle Pettman (UCL Psychiatry)

Dr Claire Henderson’s talk ‘Still “crazy” after all these years? How public attitudes to mental health have changed over time’ began with the unusual request of asking the audience to get on their feet.

She asked us to imagine that we were experiencing a current episode of mental illness and then asked us to sit back down only if we would tell our partners and family about it. I remained standing as I imagined telling my mum and boyfriend; a few others sat.

Then, she invited us to sit if we would tell our friends. I was still standing but it was more a hover as I went through my friends and decided which ones I would tell; a few more in the room sat.

Finally she invited us to sit if we would share news of our mental health problem with the people in our workplace; this was answered with a large thud as the majority of the audience (including me) sat down.

This simple exercise highlighted the stigmatisation of mental illness, in this case anticipatory, that Dr Henderson and her colleges aim to study.

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