The first symposium of the day, chaired by Francesca Happé (King's College London) focused on developmental neurocognitive models. To begin, Edmund Sonuga-Barke (King's College London), gave a fascinating insight into extreme neuroplastic responses to extraordinary environments, and their links to disorders of impulse and attention.
To end the day’s first symposium, Graham Murray (University of Cambridge) discussed some developmental neurocognitive perspectives on ADHD and schizophrenia. Of particular interest was Graham’s outline of findings from the Northern Finland Birth Cohort study. In this research they followed up participants diagnosed with ADHD during adolescence, and examined their brain structure and memory function at age 20-24 years. Whilst only 10% of participants still met the diagnostic checklist criteria for an ADHD diagnosis, the researchers found that all participants with an ADHD diagnosis in adolescence had reduced grey matter in the caudate nucleus, with over 33% failing a memory test (compared to just 5% failure in the control group). These findings raise important questions surrounding tools used in the diagnosis of disorders such as ADHD.
Next up was the second symposium of the day, chaired by Peter Jones (University of Cambridge) which looked to bring together talks focusing on risk factors for mental illness. First up was Jean-Baptiste Pingault (University College London) whose current work explores whether bullying victimisation is causal in poor mental health outcomes, or whether other genetic and environmental factors are at play. By using data from thousands of twin pairs in longitudinal twin studies, Jean-Baptiste’s work has been able to pinpoint victimisation as a causative factor in poor mental health outcomes, highlighting an important target for interventions.
To end the symposium, Mary Cannon (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) presented on symptoms of psychosis in young people and what they mean for their future. Mary’s research group reported that 21-23% of children aged 11 to 13 had experienced auditory hallucinations, suggesting that hearing voices may be more common in young people than previously thought. For some of those children, these early symptoms appear to have been an indicator for later complex mental health issues, with 70% of the strong symptom children having at least 1 criteria A symptom of schizophrenia at age 26 years. These novel findings highlight the incidence of continuity of psychotic symptoms from childhood to adulthood.
Following lunch was a panel discussion focusing on ‘What use is a diagnosis?’ with Sally McManus opening to provide insight into who is receiving a diagnosis, using data from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey.
Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg (Central Institute of Mental Health, Mannheim) brought a fantastic final day to a close with a talk on the social environment, its effects on the brain, and the development of mental health disorders. Andreas stressed the need to look to the environment, and how we can modify it, when thinking about preventing and treating mental disorders, such as schizophrenia. Andreas’ research has found that living in urban environments (city living), social status and migration are all factors which can alter the functioning of the amygdala and cingulate cortex, impairing an individual’s ability to deal with social stress. The focus on environmental factors impacting upon mental health drew together the complex effects of genetic and environmental factors we had heard about throughout the meeting. Currently, out of the two, environmental factors are the only influences which can be modified highlighting yet another important area of intervention.
The pPOD team were delighted to have been involved in such an enjoyable event and to have heard about the ground breaking and inspirational mental health research is taking place around the world!
By Beth Barker and Emily Pearson