Why did you choose to do research into mental health?
My interest in mental health research began during my PhD, which was focused on mental health symptoms in a specific type of movement disorder. Other than the psychiatry training I had done at medical school, this was the first time that I had had the opportunity to concentrate on mental health symptoms, how they affected other medical problems, and their impact on day-to-day living.
Who inspired/inspires you?
I’ve been inspired by a number of people over the course of my career. This has included some of my senior colleagues, and the impact their research work has had on their chosen field. I have also been very fortunate to have been mentored by some brilliant people, who have not only been highly successful in their chosen careers, but also extremely generous with their time and support for mine.
What are you currently working on?
We have a number of studies taking place in our group, ranging from clinical symptom and natural history studies, to laboratory-based work looking at how specific gene mutations affect the way nerve cells function. This work is all interlinked, focusing on a type of movement disorder known as dystonia, and how changes on a cellular level might effect movement and mental health symptoms.
How does your research inform your (clinical) practice and vice versa?
I’m very fortunate to be able to undertake both clinical and laboratory-based research, and to allow the two to feed into each other. On the clinical side, much of our work is influenced by clinical scenarios/symptoms highlighted by patients as causing significant impact to their lives, or being difficult to treat. The aim of all of our laboratory-based work is to better understand the causes of dystonia, and to hopefully identify or develop new treatments that we might be able to take forward to clinical trials.
What changes have you seen in attitudes towards mental health during your career?
Principally a willingness to discuss mental health by patients, their relatives and clinical staff. Over my career to date this has become something that was very infrequently discussed in neurology to clinics, to a topic that is discussed on a regular basis. I’ve also seen changes in attitudes to treatment, with greater discussion about the merits of different types of therapy.
What do you think the key challenges are for mental health?
In my opinion, these are mainly trying to understand why mental health problems arise. This involves linking genetic and environmental factors, and then trying to develop systems so that we’re able to try and understand the mechanisms that cause mental health problems. Alongside this however, we also need to continue to talk about mental health issues and how they affect people, widening the community with which we achieve this.
What advice would you give to people starting out in a career in mental health research?
To make sure that your chosen field really excites you. Research has many ups and downs, but as long as you’re genuinely interested and curious about your work, then you’ll continue to contribute in helping the people affected by these conditions.