Why did you choose to do research into mental health?
I was influenced by two things. The first was a fascination with the brain. The second was the obvious need to improve treatments for people with mental health problems. I was also convinced that this was the area of medicine that was going to see the most change during my lifetime.
Who inspired/inspires you?
I was inspired by a lot of excellent clinical scientists who dedicated their careers to understanding the causes of mental disorders. I believe it is now the mission of my generation to translate this into better treatments.
What are you currently working on?
We are working on a number of projects. However, one that is particularly exciting at the moment is our work on a class of calcium channels that have been shown to be associated with mental health problems like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. This work is important because we know that we can make drugs to target these channels, so they may offer new opportunities for therapies.
How does your research inform your clinical practice and vice versa?
There is an increasing linkage between genetics and psychiatry. As we understand more about the genetic contributions to psychiatric conditions like autism and schizophrenia we need to work more closely with our clinical genetics colleagues. We have therefore established ways of joint working which will help support this new era in psychiatry.
What changes have you seen in attitudes towards mental health during your career?
It is encouraging to see much more public discussion of mental health issues, including from the Royal Family. Decreasing stigma is really important, although as yet this hasn’t resulted in a sea change in public support for mental health research.
What do you think the key challenges are for mental health?
We urgently need to translate our advances in understanding the causes of mental disorders into better treatments. We also need to see mental health take its full place in terms of recognition and support alongside other branches of medicine.
What advice would you give to people starting out in a career in mental health research?
It is amazing time to enter the field. There are huge opportunities afforded by advances in genetics, epidemiology and neuroscience. Always remember the importance of collaboration – it makes for better science and better fun. Choose an important question to address – and remember fundamentally it is all about improving the lives of patients.