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Raising awareness of mental health and wellbeing research at City

To help raise awareness of mental health issues around the world, City is recognising World Mental Health Day and celebrating related research

by George Wigmore (Senior Communications Officer)

Across City, University of London a number of academics carry out research into mental health and wellbeing, with interdisciplinary studies carried out across departments in the Schools of Arts and Social Sciences and Health Sciences.

As a result, the following gives an insight into the work that goes on at City, and the impact it has on mental health awareness, research and practice.

SASS – Department of Psychology

Professor Tina Forster

Prof Tina ForsterProfessor Tina Forster has conducted extensive research into the neural basis of touch and body perception. More specifically, her group has investigated the neural signature of attention (i.e. when focusing on the body) and recent studies, funded by the Wellcome Trust and City, University of London, have investigated changes to attentional processes in Somatoform Disorder and in people undertaking Mindfulness (MBSR) training. In addition, her research has looked at the way we process other people’s emotions, finding, for example, that when we smile it actually changes the way our brains process other people’s emotions.

A study conducted this summer and funded by the Experimental Psychology Society and City, University of London has further investigated the link between levels of depression, body awareness and the neural basis of emotion perception. Together with Hana Villar (PhD student) and in collaboration with the local branch of MIND, Professor Forster is currently setting up a research project entailing 8-week Mindfulness training delivered early next year to interested staff and students at City,  

Dr Paul Flaxman

Dr Paul FlaxmanDr Paul Flaxman has taken a lead role in developing and evaluating acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) as a workplace training programme. This training has been shown to elicit reliable and sustained improvements in employees’ personal resilience and mental health. Dr Flaxman has received funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Guy’s and St Thomas’ Trust, Mind, and the British Academy to help deliver this training to NHS employees, local and central government workers, and school teachers.

Paul’s recent research has found that the Christmas and half-term breaks play a critical role in helping to prevent teacher burnout. His team are currently exploring the leisure time experiences that are most important for helping employees to recover from the demands and pressures of work.

Dr Corinna Haenschel

Dr Corinna HaenschelDr Haenschel's research interest is based around the study of memory in healthy controls and people with cognitive dysfunctions, such as schizophrenia, using EEG and fMRI.

Recent research has focused on working memory in people with psychosis, touching on how impaired visual working memory (WM) is present in people with schizophrenia, and also how this can be a predictor of a poor quality of life using electroencephalograms (EEGs) to identify the precise timing and coordination of activity relating to working memory across different areas of the brain.

As part of the John Grace QC PhD Scholarship funded by the Schizophrenia Research Fund and Mental Health Research UK a new study confirms that visual perceptual problems contribute to WM dysfunctions. The study shows the impact of these deficits on general cognitive skills. Based on these results, Dr Haenschel’s work is also interested in  improving WM which should  benefit many aspects of everyday life for people with psychosis but also potentially reduce medication and the likelihood of relapse.

Dr Sebastian Gaigg

Dr Seb GaiggAs a member of the Autism Research Group at City, Dr Gaigg’s research has focused on the emotional lives and wellbeing of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). His recent work has focused on identifying the reasons for why an estimated 50% of adults with ASD suffer from anxiety disorders.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Dr Gaigg and colleagues at Brigham Young University and the University of Newcastle showed that anxiety in autism may be caused by a combination of an ‘intolerance of uncertainty’ and difficulties in identifying and understanding own emotions. This finding has the important implication that mindfulness-based interventions may be particularly effective in alleviating anxiety in ASD and work is now underway to examine whether this is the case.

Dr Katy Tapper

Dr Katy TapperDr Tapper's main research interests are in health behaviour and behaviour change, with a particular emphasis on healthy eating and weight loss. She has been involved in the development and evaluation of a wide range of health interventions for both adults and children. Her work includes the use of digital technologies to influence lifestyles and habits.

Recent research has examined how brief mindfulness-based strategies could help people resist the temptation of chocolate and eat more healthy diets.

Dr Danai Dima

Dr Dima's research is thoroughly interdisciplinary combining knowledge of cognitive and clinical psychology, neuroimaging and genetics.

Dr Danai DimaDr Dima recent curated an exhibition at Somerset House which offers an insight into visual illusions and schizophrenia. Featuring cutting-edge research and a number of illusions, the installation invited the visitor to test their own eyes and brains and presents pioneering research that is shedding light on the way that the brain works and forging new approaches to diagnosis and care.

Mainly investigating cognition in psychosis, Dr Dima employs neuroimaging methods, such as fMRI and EEG, and brain connectivity analyses in combination with genetics to further understand processes in the brain. This enables Dr Dima to look at working memory, facial affect and visual illusions in people with psychosis, mainly schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Amanda Roestorf

Amanda RoestorfAmanda Roestorf in the Autism Research Group is conducting a 4-year study on Ageing with Autism, as part of her PhD under the supervision of Professors Dermot Bowler and Patricia Howlin. The focus of this research is to understand the effects of growing older with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), on cognitive functioning and quality of life. This includes a longitudinal follow-up of autistic adults over time, to evaluate specific age-related difficulties associated with autism symptoms, mental health and co-occurring health conditions, and cognitive changes in memory, executive function, language and intellectual ability, particularly for older autistic individuals in later life.

Preliminary findings from this study have recently been presented at the International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR, 2015, 2016) and published in: Scott D. Wright (ed.), 2016, Autism Spectrum Disorder in Mid and Later Life, Jessica Kingsley Publishers (Chapter 13, pp. 207-219). The research is funded by the Medical Research Council UK, in collaboration with the National Autistic Society.

School of Health Sciences

Professor Alan Simpson

Prof Alan SimpsonProfessor Alan Simpson is a mental health nurse researcher with a special interest in the involvement of and collaboration with service users and carers in mental health practice, education and research. Alan leads the Centre for Mental Health Research, which investigates how best to deliver and improve mental health care and mental health nursing.

Recent research by Professor Simpson and colleagues has shown that mental health service users saw the relationships with their care coordinators as being central to their recovery and felt that care plans were largely irrelevant. As part of the study, the team conducted a cross-national comparative study involving six NHS sites in England and Wales that included a survey of 449 service users and 205 care coordinators. They also conducted interviews with 117 managers, practitioners, service users and carers.

The aim of the work is that it will help improve cumbersome and time consuming care planning processes while enabling mental health workers more time to create meaningful therapeutic relationships, which are currently valued but limited by the focus on bureaucracy.

Professor Susan Ayers

Prof Susan AyersProfessor Susan Ayers’ research focusses on women's mental health during pregnancy and after birth, particularly anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Her research examines the prevalence, causes, screening and treatment of anxiety in pregnant and postnatal women, as well as the impact of mental health on the mother-baby and family relationships.

In addition to recent research which showed that the biggest risk factors for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in response to events of childbirth are depression in pregnancy and negative experiences during birth, Professor Ayers also contributed to the All Party Parliamentary Group report ‘1001 Critical Days’.

The report highlighted that he first 1001 days of a child's life from conception to age 2 are so important that tackling it should be no less a priority for our politicians and our health and social care professionals than national defence as, without change, the economic cost of these cycles of deprivation is enormous.

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