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Leading the conversation around mental health

Monday marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK. Evolving the conversation around mental health has taken on a new urgency in 2020, and Queen Mary is playing its part to ensure the needs of our most vulnerable are met

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Mental health matters protest sign
Mental health matters protest sign

The effects of loss, isolation, economic uncertainty, financial vulnerability and existing mental health conditions have been intensified as the coronavirus pandemic continues. Through vital research and charitable initiatives, here’s how we’re helping to address these issues on local, national and global levels.

Remote therapy for children

The coronavirus crisis has seen a huge shift in how organisations provide certain services – especially those typically carried out in person. To guarantee children can still access the mental health services they need, psychologists from Queen Mary have developed a free online resource that enables the delivery of psychological therapy to children remotely.

Created as part of a collaboration with the American University of Beirut, Médecins du Monde and Johns Hopkins University, the resource draws on researchers’ experience adapting an existing psychological treatment for Syrian refugee children living in Lebanon.

Professor Michael Pluess, Professor of Psychology at Queen Mary, said: "Initially we had some reservations around how successful remote delivery of an existing treatment would be, however we’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well the remote treatment programme has worked so far with Syrian refugee children. Whilst we’re still waiting for the complete results of our study, we’ve developed this guidance to support the many practitioners that now need to deliver psychological treatment via phone or other remote technologies.”

Chronic health problems and mental illness

A link between long-term health conditions in children and an increased likelihood of developing mental health conditions later in life has been discovered by researchers from the Wolfson Institute of Preventative Medicine.

Children with chronic health conditions were approximately twice as likely at 10 and at 13 to present with a mental health disorder than the control group (children reported by their mothers to be ‘healthy, no problems’) the study found. At age 15, children with chronic health problems were 60 per cent more likely to present with such disorders.

Study author, Dr Ann Marie Brady, said: “Although the link between chronic health conditions and mental health problems in childhood has been made before, this study provides the strongest evidence of it to date in the years of late childhood and early adolescence. The difference chronic conditions make to mental health are concerning, and the first impact can be seen even before adolescence, in late childhood.”

Moral injury

Better psychological support for our frontline health workers is needed urgently, according to a review co-authored by Queen Mary academics.

The paper reveals how the mental wellbeing of NHS staff will have been impacted by witnessing “unacceptable” situations, huge amounts of pressure, fear of transmitting and passing on the virus, working with frequently changing protocols and caring for dying patients. All of which can result in “moral injury” – a concept emerging from work with military veterans.

In response, the paper is structured as an easy-to-read guide and includes recommendations for individuals, teams and leaders in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr Esther Murray, Senior Lecturer in Health Psychology at Queen Mary said: “Moral injury can also result from bearing witness to the devastating effects of failures in leadership in high-stakes situations. NHS staff feel that the government have let them down and then lied about it – so this is another form of moral injury which NHS workers are having to deal with.”

Investing in youth resilience

A new initiative, led by Queen Mary’s United for Social and Community Psychiatry in partnership with People’s Palace Projects, will be an important tool in helping young people age between 15 and 24 overcome anxiety and depression.

Following £2.7 million in funding from Barts Charity, the Youth Resilience Unit will be fully operational by March 2021. Its research will be instrumental in improving the mental health of young people by influencing public health policies, clinical practice and the arts sector, both within the UK and globally.

It will also provide opportunities for colleagues and students across the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Queen Mary. 

Paul Heritage, Professor of Drama and Performance and Director of People’s Palace Projects said: “Mental Health is major global challenge which demands innovative and multi-disciplinary research.

“The bold decision by the Barts Charity to fund the creation of a Youth Resilience Research Unit at Queen Mary ensures that over the next five years we can now undertake this research closer to home in the East End of London.”

Mad Hearts - Solitude and the Encounter

The relationship between mental health and the arts will be explored over the course of a webinar run by the MSc Creative Arts and Mental Health (a programme run jointly by the Centre for Psychiatry, Wolfson Institute, and the Department of Drama, School of English and Drama).

Mad Hearts is an annual event organised by Dr Maria Grazia Turri and Professor Bridget Escolme, joint directors of the MSc, and Dr Louise Younie from Barts and The London.

It acts as a vital platform bringing together clinical, artistic and research perspectives to offer a re-interpretation of contemporary mental health science and practice.

This year’s event be a webinar on 19 June and will focus on the theme of ‘Solitude and the Encounter’. A more detailed programme will be available soon.

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