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UCL Mental Health


blogs on latest mental health research from UCL


Top posts of 2023 on the IoMH blog

By Rosie Niven, on 25 January 2024

#1: This guest blog marking University Mental Health Day is our top post from 2023. Lucy Foulkes of the University of Oxford looks at the concept of awareness days or weeks and asks whether we are doing enough to measure their outcomes. Read post >

#2. A PhD scholarship may last just a few years, but today’s scholar could become tomorrow’s supervisor as Jen Dykxhoorn from UCL’s Division of Psychiatry wrote in February, as a prestigious Mental Health Research UK scholarship opened for applications. Read post >

#3 Research from UCL’s Marie Curie Palliative Care Department shows that people with SPMI want to make their own choice about end-of-life care – just like anyone else. Nivedita Ashok describes the findings. Read post >

#4 The discoveries and positive impacts of academic research can give researchers great job satisfaction but the role also brings stresses that pose a risk to their mental health, write Helen Nicholls, Jo Billings and Danielle Lamb. Read Post >

#5 Recent UCL research finds that lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults report higher rates of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts than their heterosexual peers. In this blog Garrett Kidd describes how the study came about and its significance. Read post >

…and the rest of the top 10

  1. IoMH Conference 2023 – a PhD student’s reportJennifer Fielder
  2. Mental Health is a human right – a workplace perspectiveSally Belcher
  3. Children’s Mental Health and the PermacrisisCharlotte Burdge and Tamsin Ford
  4. University Mental Health Charter Award – how was it for you? Denise Long, Umair Mehmood and Tony David
  5. Connecting with others through the power of musicNaaheed Mukadam

Thank you to all our contributors in 2023. If you have an idea for a blogpost about mental health research or clinical practice and would like to contribute to the IoMH blog – do get in touch!

Poor mental health is not random: what can we do to achieve social justice?

By iomh, on 12 January 2024

We used to see mental health problems as primarily a biological phenomenon. But is it true? If we say that your mental health also depends on the distribution of social, economic and political wealth, power, and resources, does it make easier to solve the problem?

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Mental Health is a human right – a workplace perspective

By iomh, on 10 October 2023

UCL’s Head of Workplace Wellbeing, Sally Belcher outlines how dedicated workplace health teams and researchers have come together to support the mental health of members of staff.   

World Mental Health Day is recognised annually on 10th of October. It is a day that encourages everyone to reflect on their own mental health, and that of those around them. This year’s theme is ‘Mental health is a universal human right’, and in the workplace that means ensuring mental health is treated equitably and with the same respect and dignity as that of a physical injury. Working in Workplace Health, especially around the time of World Mental Health Day is an opportunity to improve knowledge and raise awareness of staff but it also serves as a stark reminder on how far we as a society have to go.

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How can we improve end of life care for someone with an intellectual disability or serious mental illness?

By iomh, on 10 October 2023

People with serious and persistent mental illness (SPMI) often have poor experiences of health care, including end-of -life care, yet their voices often go unheard, leading to decisions being made on their behalf. Nivedita Ashok describes research from UCL’s Marie Curie Palliative Care Department, which shows that people with SPMI want to make their own choice, just like anyone else.

Photo of two elderly men playing chess by Vlad Sargu (@vladsargu) on Unsplash
Making decisions: the study emphasises the importance of using service users’ voices as the driving factor in making decisions surrounding their care (credit: Vlad Sargu)

People with a diagnosis of intellectual disability or a serious mental illness die much earlier from serious physical illnesses than the general population. Lack of support to have healthier lifestyles, only seeking help when very unwell, late presentation to services, delays in diagnosis, and insufficient treatment provision are all problems.

Despite this gap, they are often excluded from palliative care research, and their experience of healthcare services are often poor, e.g. failure to make reasonable adjustments.

Our research team has been studying these issues to identify the gaps and uncertainties in the evidence. The findings have helped us understand what service users, their families, and the professionals who work with them find challenging, and what they suggest can help improve this.

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How we talked to young adults about dementia and end-of-life care

By iomh, on 9 October 2023

Dementia and end of life care is a challenging topic to engage young adults with but the EMBED-Care team took the opportunity to do this by putting together an event for Science Museum Lates to engage young adults with these themes. Sophie Crawley describes their experiences.

Three images of the Science Lates event (clockwise). Two young adults look through the card game; The wishing tree; the Knowing me, knowing you card game.

The Science Museum in London is a well-known destination for families and children to spend a day looking at all things science related. A lesser-known aspect of the museum’s work are Science Museum Lates. These are primarily targeted as a young adult social event for groups of friends to attend. There is a lively and engaging atmosphere with music, DJs and a bar, while they explore the Museum’s regular exhibits after hours and engage with events and activities run by external groups centred around a specific science-related theme.  

A conversation with the Science Museum about our work to improve the end-of-life care of people dying with or dying from dementia led to an offer to participate in a Lates event celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the NHS. This was a great opportunity to share our research with a young adult audience who may not have thought about dementia or the end of life, but who will be increasingly affected by dementia as the prevalence, and the need to care for those with a diagnosis, increases. It also gave all the EMBED-Care team from UCL and King’s College London an opportunity to collectively ‘have a go’ at public engagement.

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IoMH Conference 2023 – a PhD student’s report

By iomh, on 29 September 2023

The fourth UCL Institute of Mental Health Conference explored a diverse range of topics including health economics, suicide prevention and cognitive neuroscience. UCL Wellcome PhD student Jennifer Fielder shares some of her highlights of the day.

Professors Martin Knapp and Tim Kendall listen to Dr Lade Smith's contribution to the discussion on funding mental health
Professors Martin Knapp and Tim Kendall listen to Dr Lade Smith’s contribution to the discussion on funding mental health

As a PhD student in Mental Health Science, I was excited to hear some of the latest mental health research showcased by leading experts at the Institute of Mental Health (IoMH) Conference.

The first session on mind and body interactions followed warm welcomes from Professor Anthony David, director of UCL IoMH, and Professor Alan Thompson, Dean of the UCL Faculty of Brain Sciences. UCL’s Professor Sarah Garfinkel focused on how our ability to sense internal contexts and signals, known as interoception, shapes mental health. This covered her work on interoceptive training, where people learn to detect their heartbeats more accurately, which decreased anxiety in autistic adults for up to one year after the training. The talk finished with the exciting prospect that effective psychiatric treatments may work via interoceptive pathways. For example, one dose of the antidepressant Citalopram was found to increase interoceptive accuracy.

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“Truly alone for the first time in my life”

By iomh, on 19 July 2023

UCL Psychiatry MSc student Kangning Zheng’s research focuses on the experiences of loneliness among international students. This blog describes what her work reveals about the impact on students’ mental health.

Photo by Serkan Göktay: https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-wearing-grey-and-orange-hoodie-sitting-on-brown-wooden-park-bench-during-daytime-66757/

Studying in another country might be an exciting prospect for many people but some international students can feel lonely during a period of study abroad. Transient loneliness at the start of a move to a new country is common and can be a positive stimulus to meet more people and establish oneself. However, some people can become chronically lonely, and this poses a threat to health and wellbeing. Loneliness is therefore an important consideration for policymakers in relation to the economic and social benefits of international students.

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‘Self-binding directives’ – should it be possible to request involuntary treatment in advance?

By iomh, on 5 July 2023

Earlier this year in a BBC Radio 4 programme Tania Gergel documented her treatment for bipolar. In this blog, she describes how she has used ‘self-binding directives’ to manage the risks associated with these treatments.

Ulysses And The Sirens, Painted By John William Waterhouse (1891)
Ulysses And The Sirens, Painted By John William Waterhouse (1891)

Shortly after I moved into the field of mental health ethics and law about twelve years ago, I found my work focusing on one particular area – mental health advance directives or ‘advance choice documents’, as they will soon be known within the upcoming revisions to the Mental Health Act in England and Wales.

Research and practice in this area had been dominated by the idea that advance choice documents could provide a way for people with severe mental illness to avoid hospitalisation and involuntary treatment. But it soon became evident that, in fact, many people might also want to harness the power of advance decision-making to do the opposite – to ensure that they received treatment, even if against their will, during future episodes of illness when they knew from past experience, they would resist.

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The Michael King Prize winner: one year on

By iomh, on 21 June 2023

Entries are invited for the 2023 Michael King Prize, which is awarded to the UCL PhD awardee with the best thesis on a subject relating to mental health. In this blog, last year’s winner Aaron Kandola, shares his experiences of the award and reveals what he’s been doing since then.

Aaron Kandola receives the award from Tony David

Last year I was awarded the Michael King Prize for my PhD thesis on the relationship between physical activity, fitness, and sedentary behaviour with depression and anxiety symptoms in the population.

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Examining the relationship between sexual orientation and suicidality

By iomh, on 9 June 2023

Recent UCL research finds that lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults report higher rates of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts than their heterosexual peers. In this blog Garrett Kidd describes how the study came about and its significance.

In the 2021 census lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people represented 3.2% of the English and Welsh populations.

However, the UK is a heteronormative society where LGB people have experienced systemic and historical persecution under British law; homosexuality was partially decriminalised only in 2017. Legal recognition and protections have advanced since then, but a legacy of discrimination and lack of legal protection has impacted the lives of generations of LGB individuals.  Minority stress theory suggests that experiences such as discrimination or bullying might account for the poorer mental health of LGB people, as suggested in our previous work at UCL.

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