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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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“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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Connecting with others through the power of music

By iomh, on 24 May 2023

A project to bring South Asian music and dance to people with dementia will be showcased next month at Bloomsbury Theatre. Dr Naaheed Mukadam, the researcher behind the project, shares her experiences of this project.

I have been a dementia researcher for more than 15 years and have always focused on ethnic inequalities, initially in the diagnostic pathway and more recently in genetic risk, prevention and post diagnostic support.

My research has highlighted the stigma that can exist around memory loss and dementia and I have tried to counteract this during my career so far. I am used to the scientific method – hypothesis testing and use of both qualitative and quantitative methods to answer specific questions. However, after attending public engagement workshops at UCL and reflecting on the power of personal stories in connecting with others, I started to think about how else I could go about capturing the experiences of those with dementia and those who care for them. Music was one way of connecting that I thought would be quite universal.

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University Mental Health Day – An opportunity to think about our own mental health and wellbeing?

By iomh, on 8 March 2023

A student studying in a library at UCL. credit: Mat Wright
Researchers need to pay attention to the impact of the content of their work on themselves. credit: Mat Wright

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. University mental health day is a chance for researchers to reflect on these, write Helen Nicholls, Jo Billings and Danielle Lamb.

Mental wellbeing at work has been relatively neglected until very recently, despite working age adults spending on average 35% of their waking hours at work and 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime. We know that good work can be good for mental health, but that poor working environments – including discrimination and inequality, excessive workloads, lack of resources, limited job control and job insecurity – can pose a risk to mental health.

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Children’s Mental Health and the Permacrisis

By iomh, on 6 March 2023

After living through an extended period of turbulence, how are our children and young people coping? Charlotte Burdge and Tamsin Ford highlight what the research reveals and how we can better support our young people.

Clockwise: Main Photo by August de Richelieu from Pexels: https://www.pexels.com/photo/child-taking-classes-online-4261786/, Charlotte Burdge, Tamsin Ford
Main Photo: Child home schooling, by August de Richelieu from Pexels, Top right Charlotte Burdge, Bottom right: Tamsin Ford

The mental health of children and young people deteriorated over the last decade, particularly among young women in their mid-teens and early twenties, who were more likely to struggle with anxiety, depression and self-harm than previously. This may come as no surprise, considering today’s children and young people have lived through what could be called a permacrisis; or an extended period of uncertainty and instability resulting from a chain of catastrophic events. Those born since the Millennium have experienced – directly or indirectly – severe financial crises, COVID-19, war, and increased global insecurity. Many young people have also voiced concerns about their own prospects for longer-term issues such as climate change, political instability, and the cost-of-living crisis

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IoMH International Conference 2022 – Reflecting the complex, nuanced and multifaceted nature of mental health research

By iomh, on 26 October 2022

This blog was written by Freya Robb, Senior Press Officer for Science Media Centre

The third Institute of Mental Health International Conference took place on the 21st September 2022. This was the first time the conference had been held in person and was a sell-out event.

Led by its Director, Professor Anthony David, the UCL Institute of Mental Health was created to bring together the best interdisciplinary research to help tackle mental illness. This year’s conference aimed to reflect this broad and diverse approach, covering some key topics of interest that are at the forefront of public discussion and interest.

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Special Interest Group in Social Cognition and Behaviour

By iomh, on 10 October 2022

This blog was written by Dr Andrew Sommerlad, co-lead of the SIG in Social Cognition and Behaviour, for World Mental Health Day 2022. 

two heads looking at each other with visual vibrations in between the two

Having effective social cognition and social behaviour is central to people being able to integrate with others and form meaningful and supportive social groups. It is therefore essential for maintaining personal happiness and achievement and for wider societal cohesion. However, social cognition and behaviour is affected by many disease states, including neuro-developmental, affective and neurodegenerative disorders, leading to damaging effects on quality of life. Understanding what determines successful social cognition and behaviour and what leads to it becoming impaired has a range of potentially important impacts, from guiding development of new treatments and social policy, to fostering a deepened understanding of human nature.

Social cognition and behaviour is a research focus for UCL academics spanning numerous faculties and departments, and its treatment is a priority for many clinicians in our associated NHS trusts. The scope of this research is wide and varied, encompassing different populations and disease areas, and using a broad range of theoretical and methodological approaches. This means that there is a lot to be learnt from each other.

We therefore established the UCL Institute of Mental Health Special Interest Group (SIG) in Social Cognition and Behaviour to bring together researchers and clinicians who are interested in understanding social cognition and behaviour. We want the SIG to strengthen capacity and collaboration across UCL in research into this area, by providing a forum for academics and clinicians to share their disciplinary perspectives and expertise. We wish to promote discussion and exchange of ideas to encourage interdisciplinary thinking and foster productive relationships in social cognition and behaviour research.

group of different coloured drawings of stick people in a circle

Our SIG currently comprises over 50 members and we have begun to support our aims through our inaugural meeting in September 2022, which we held face to face at UCL to facilitate networking. The meeting showcased the depth and breadth of social cognition and behaviour research at UCL through, first, keynote presentations on the importance of social touch in regulating social and affective needs, and on the social behavioural experience of people with autism during the COVID-19 pandemic, and then flash presentations from 15 academics across UCL. Our MS Teams channel is a forum open to all SIG members to enable us to share resources, and information about funding and conferences, and supervisory opportunities. We will continue working towards our aims through future seminars and other activities.

We want to build this network, so if you are interested in joining our special interest group, please contact us via dop.socialsig@ucl.ac.uk, and join our Teams team. We will keep you updated about all future SIG activities, and we would welcome any suggestions about what the SIG can do to help your social cognition and behaviour research.