ModKathryn: Welcome to this weeks live chat on Mental Health. My name is Kathryn, I am a moderator for the learning zone and a first year PhD student :). Feel free to say hi and introduce yourself when you get here!
ModKathryn: Hi @Alice JB @Christina – what are you both working on at the moment?
Alice: I’m working with schools to think about mental health and challenging behaviour. I work with a couple of SEMH schools on their behaviour strategies.
Christina: I just started a post doc fellowship at UCL – looking at biological+environmental factors that influence resilience in adolescence
ModKathryn: @Alice JB sounds interesting! What is a SEMH school?
Alice: I’ve also just finished a project with Mind looking at the outcomes of a school-based, peer-led intervention on resilience/mental health promotion called Mindkit.
ModKathryn: @Christina great congratulations! how do you measure biological and environmental factors?
Alice: SEMH is the newest term for what used to be Social, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties – it’s now Social, Emotional and Mental Health difficulties/needs. A sensible enough change.
Christina: I’m currently working with a dataset that was collected in the States that has measures of brain imaging, genetics, clinical assessments and questionnaire measures completed by young people and carers
Alice: Sounds interesting @christina – what sort of questions are you asking?
ModKathryn: @Alice JB that sounds great – what did you find? did you find the students were receptive and benefited from it?
ModKathryn: @Christina ah great so you have lots of data to work with!
Christina: lots of data indeed 🙂 at the moment we’re looking at how exposure to stress interacts with biological (genes+brain) predisposition to influence the onset of mental health problems
Alice: Yes, the fact that other young people with their own experience of mental health challenges were talking candidly really captured attention. I think it was far more powerful than a teacher or other MH professional giving the same information. Some of the feedback we got was really important though – students saying that they were relieved to find that other people felt like them – they thought that they were the only ones. There were also really important benefits for the young people who were trained to provide the school sessions. All round – a cost effective, but important addition to the MH information resource base for schools.
ModKathryn: @Alice JB sounds like it was very valuable initiative – and potentially one that could be rolled out on a larger scale?
Alice: Yes – with funding (relatively modest) I think it could easily be rolled out.
ModKathryn: @Christina is that delving into the realm of epigenetics?
Christina: a bit! though were more looking at how stress can interact with pre-existing factors – e.g. gene x environment correlations (as opposed to how it can actually impact gene expression). But both approaches are valuable!
Catherine W: Hi – I’m interested in links between brain and mental health – what are the structural/functional brain changes you might expect to see with mental health issues?
Christina: good question! it really depends on the specific question you’re looking at – for example, there’s evidence to suggest that childhood maltreatment or presence of developmental disorders like autism or ADHD may result in abnormalities in the prefrontal cortex, the front-most part of our brains that is important for goal-directed behaviour (and lots of other functions!)
ModKathryn: @all it also is difficult to work out the causal relationship as well right? do the abnormalities arise from mental health issues or do the mental health issues arise from abnormalities – very difficult question to answer in research. However I imagine @Christina your work on predispositions is aiming to investigate those questions
Christina: yes, absolutely – it’s a very tough question to answer
Alice: @Catherine W It’s likely that mental health issues will also impact on the way that children are able to manage work in the classroom. There is some work on maltreatment and hippocampus size for example, and this might impact on abilities relating to memory.
Catherine W: Yes I guess not a straightforward question to answer. Fit to Study, where I work, is looking at whether mental health might mediate relationships between physical activity and academic attainment. (Or whether cognitive function mediates that relationship)
Christina: I think the best tools we have to look at that right now are longitudinal studies, where a group of people are followed from a young age (ideally birth) through development
Alice: There are interesting relationships between physical activity and cognitive functions, so it makes sense to explore that
ModKathryn: @Catherine W could you tell us a bit more about Fit to Study?
Catherine W: Yes! It is a randomised controlled trial that is investigating the impact of physical activity during secondary school PE on academic attainment. We are also looking at whether cognitive function and/or mental health mediate that relationship. Obviously lots of other things to take into account like gender, socio-economic status – in 100 schools.
Alice: Sounds brilliant – does it increase the amount of activity done in a day? (during school hours?)
Christina: 100 schools – wow!
ModKathryn: @Catherine W thats awesome! what stage are you at in the trial?
Catherine W: We are mid-intervention and trying to keep control schools blind to the intervention so I have strict instructions not to disclose what we are actually doing! Hopefully protocol published shortly so all will be revealed… The intervention ends at the end of the school year
ModKathryn: So exciting! best of luck with the rest of the trial. Will look out for the findings!
Christina: looking forward to seeing the outcome!
ModKathryn: @all whats the most interesting thing you found out this week?
Alice: This week, I’ve been reading a lot about the importance of greenspace – not only for mental health, but also cognitive function
Christina: interesting, what is there out there about cognitive function?
Alice: This is quite a nice paper: http://www.pnas.org/content/112/26/7937.full
ModKathryn: @Alice JB thats so funny as I also have… I saw some research on ecological therapy which seems to be based around outdoor activities. I was organising a mental health themed meeting for PhD students – we ended up going for a walk around regents park in our lunch break :).
Alice: Gregory Bratman at Stanford also does some interesting work on this. I think it’s really important – and the putative link with air pollution interests me.
ModKathryn: @Alice JB thanks will look into it! I guess that kind of thing would have quite important implications for inner city schools… we may have to start facilitating more green space trips
Christina: Really interesting – and I imagine especially important in urban cities like London
Alice: Kathryn – sounds great. Forest Schools for PhD students? 😉
ModKathryn: @Alice JB I would LOVE that! PhD students need sunlight too!
Alice: haha. I remember mine – there wasn’t much daylight in my sad little office.
Christina: definitely too true for too many!
ModKathryn: Its been great to chat to you all 🙂 thanks for telling us more about your research
Christina: Thanks for the lovely chat! good luck with your research!
Alice: Thanks Kathryn – nice to meet you both
ModKathryn: Great to meet you too! Look forward to seeing you in the next live chat