This International Men’s Day (19 November) we’re celebrating the amazing achievements of men working in mental health research. While MQ has funded research by men and women with the split between the two being 50/50, and we celebrated amazing women earlier this year, there are a great many men who are dedicating their lives to helping us understand the science of mental health. We’re focusing on 5 amazing men who have made impact in the world of mental health science.
Dr Joshua Roffman
One of our first ever fellows when MQ began, Dr Joshua Roffman, based in the USA, found that by increasing the consumption of folic acid during pregnancy, changes occur in children’s brain development that reduce the occurrence of psychotic symptoms later in their life.
Roffman and his team at Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Pennsylvania studied MRI scans from 1,370 children born before, during and after the introduction of fortification in the US (when folic acid is added to food).
The thickness of the outer layer of cells of the brain thins as the brain matures during adolescence. If this thinning happens prematurely at a faster rate it indicates risk of the person developing severe mental illness.
Dr Joshua and his team studied this layer to discover that cortical thinning begins much later for children born during or after the introduction of fortification than for those born before the change. This means folic acid taken by a pregnant mother reduces the risk of a child developing symptoms of psychosis.
Psychotic disorders have a substantial impact on individuals, their families and society. Therefore, thanks to Dr Joshua’s research, public health policies changed worldwide to increase levels of foods fortified with folic acid. Read his full paper here.
Dr. Christian Kieling
In 2018, MQ funded the IDEA project (Identifying Depression in Early Adolescence) of which Dr Christian Kieling was one of two principal investigators (along with Professor Valeria Mondelli). This ambitious project aimed to better understand how cultural, social, biological and environmental factors lead to the development of depression in young people.
IDEA went on to successfully develop a tool that can be used to predict which young people are at greatest risk of developing depression in later life. The project also developed cutting edge techniques using biomarkers to monitor mental health in adolescents through digital technology and passive monitoring.
The risk tool that was subsequently developed, called the IDEA risk score, was also tested in other countries. Its performance was then tested in the UK, New Zealand, Nigeria, Nepal, Brazil and the United States.
“The IDEA project allowed us to conduct research on adolescent depression where it is most needed. The IDEA risk tool will allow us to disentangle cultural influences that contribute to the risk for developing depression globally. Thanks to this, we’ll be able to understand the risk for, and ultimately prevent and decrease adolescent depression across the globe.” Dr. Christian Kieling
This work by Dr Christian and his colleagues could ensure that the children worldwide are able to get help before they develop symptoms of depression, potentially stopping the illness within a generation.
Dr. Max Taquet
Approximately 2 million adults in the UK are likely to have lasting symptoms after COVID-19, often called “long-Covid”. Symptoms include lethargy, chest pain or respiratory difficulties, joint pain, depression and anxiety, and cognitive impairment. This cognitive impairment is sometimes called ‘brain fog’. A study conducted by Maxime Taquet from the University of Oxford and supported by MQ and the Wolfson Foundation, aimed to address this problem.
“COVID is associated with elevated risks of a wide range of neurological and psychiatric consequences. The goal is to be able to prevent and reverse the cognitive problems seen in some people after COVID-19. Our MQ-supported study’s results are a significant advance in understanding.” Dr. Max Taquet
Dr Max’s study gathered evidence to suggest that ‘brain fog’ was caused by blood clots.
So while 3.1% of the UK population are affected by Long-COVID including brain fog , this study could lead to more effective treatments that will in turn help millions of people.
Professor Rory O’Connor
People with severe mental illnesses die up to 10 years earlier than the general population. Their lives are scandalously cut short due to the tragedy of suicide as well as a disproportionately high rate of physical health problems with low detection. This is why MQ are focusing on the Gone Too Soon project, aiming to focus research on to how to prevent early mortality in those with severe mental illness.
Back in 2016, Professor Rory O’Connor successfully trialled a telephone intervention to prevent repeated suicide attempts as part of MQ’s PsyIMPACT funding programme. Professor Rory is now director of the Suicide research lab at the University of Glasgow.
In addition to this, Professor Rory has done much more. In February and March 2022, MQ held an expert meeting which led to the Gone Too Soon thematic focus. Two meetings were held, virtually, led by Professors Carol Worthman and Professor Rory. These meetings convened world-leading experts from many disciplines, including lived experience experts, to develop a roadmap for tackling premature deaths connected with mental illness and suicide.
As well as continuing in his field, Rory now presents our MQ Open Minds Podcast. Launched in 2019, this podcast aims to discuss in depth both lived experience and fascinating details of research into mental health. It won the ‘Best podcast’ award from the Bupa Mind Media Awards, the MQ Open Mind Podcast. In it Professor Rory helps to present the work of scientists and mental health activists through fortnightly one-hour episodes. Episodes been downloaded over 10,000 times. Professor Rory in fact features in an interview on MQ Open Minds podcast with our final researcher we’d like to highlight this International Men’s Day.
Professor David Nutt
One of the interviewees in our podcast MQ Open Mind is Professor David Nutt. David specialises in the research of drugs that affect the brain and conditions such as addiction, anxiety, and sleep. Currently, David is investigating if psychedelic drugs can be effective against treatment-resistant depression.
“I’ve probably given more different kinds of drugs, particularly illegal drugs, to humans and anyone alive, maybe ever… Psychedelics will revolutionise psychiatry. Whether it’s depression, eating disorders, addiction… they will be transformational.” Professor David Nut
David has been fascinated by science ever since he was a young boy. He remembers, in his interview on MQ Open Minds, being a 10 year old boy when science at school led him to become “fascinated by the mind”.
David and his colleagues have strived to understand the effects on the brain psychedelics can have, and as many varieties of psychedelics as he has been able. In his own words, they’ve done “the definitive imaging work” on the effects of psilocybin, LSD, DMT and now 5-MeO-DMT, otherwise known as ‘the God molecule’. David’s team are searching into the brain imprint of these drugs. And how widely we can utilise the effects.
Now, David and his team are setting up a pilot study, beginning in 2024, into whether psychedelics can help people break free from heroin addiction.
Research can change the world. By supporting MQ you’re supporting positive changes researchers like the ones mentioned above can make in society. Donating to MQ Mental Health Research moves us all closer to a mentally healthier future.