This International Men’s Day (19 November) we celebrate the incredible achievements of men working in mental health research. While MQ has funded research by men and women with a 50/50 split between the two, and we celebrated incredible women earlier this year, there are a huge number of men who dedicate their lives to helping us understand science of mental health. We focus on five incredible men who have made an impact on the world of mental health science.
Dr. Joshua Roffman
One of our first fellows when MQ started, US-based Dr. Joshua Roffman, found that increasing folic acid intake during pregnancy produces changes in children’s brain development that reduce the occurrence of psychotic symptoms later in their lives.
Roffman and his team at Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Pennsylvania studied MRIs of 1,370 children born before, during and after the introduction of fortification in the US (when folic acid is added to foods).
The thickness of the outer layer of brain cells thins as the brain matures during adolescence. If this weight loss occurs prematurely at a faster rate, it indicates the person’s risk of developing a serious mental illness.
Dr. Joshua and his team studied this layer and found that cortical thinning begins much later in children born during or after the introduction of fortification than in those born before the change. This means that 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 around the world to increase levels of folic acid-fortified foods. Read his full article here.
Dr. Christian Kieling
In 2018, MQ funded the IDEA (Identification of Depression in Early Adolescence) project, of which Dr. Christian Kieling was one of the two principal investigators (together 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 successfully developed a tool that can be used to predict which young people are most at risk of developing depression in the future. The project also developed cutting-edge techniques that use biomarkers to monitor adolescent mental health through digital technology and passive monitoring.
The risk tool that was subsequently developed, called the IDEA risk score, was also tested in other countries. It was then tested for performance in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Nigeria, Nepal, Brazil and the United States.
“The IDEA project allowed us to conduct research on adolescent depression where it is needed most. The IDEA risk tool will allow us to disentangle the cultural influences that contribute to the risk of developing depression globally. “Thanks to this, we will be able to understand the risk and ultimately prevent and reduce adolescent depression around the world.” Dr. Christian Kieling
This work by Dr. Christian and his colleagues could ensure that children around the world can get help before they develop symptoms of depression, potentially stopping the disease in a generation.
Dr. Max Taquet
Around 2 million adults in the UK are likely to have long-lasting symptoms after COVID-19, often called ‘Long Covid’. Symptoms include lethargy, chest pain or breathing difficulties, joint pain, depression and anxiety, and cognitive impairment. This cognitive impairment is sometimes called “brain fog.” A study conducted by Maxime Taquet of the University of Oxford and supported by MQ and the Wolfson Foundation aimed to address this issue.
“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. “The results of our MQ-supported study are a significant advance in understanding.” Dr. Max Taquet
Dr. Max’s study gathered evidence suggesting that “mental confusion” was caused by blood clots.
So while 3.1% of the UK population is affected by long COVID, including brain fog, this study could lead to more effective treatments which in turn will help millions of people.
Professor Rory O’Connor
People with serious mental illnesses die up to 10 years earlier than the general population. Their lives are shockingly cut short due to the tragedy of suicide, as well as a disproportionately high rate of underdetected physical health problems. That’s why MQ is focusing on the Gone Too Soon project, which aims to focus research on how to prevent early mortality in people with serious mental illness.
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 laboratory 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 that resulted in 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 to address premature deaths related to mental illness and suicide.
As well as continuing in his field, Rory now hosts our podcast MQ Open Minds. Launched in 2019, this podcast aims to discuss in depth both the lived experiences and fascinating details of mental health research. He won the ‘Best Podcast’ award at the Bupa Mind Media Awards, the MQ Open Mind Podcast. In it, Professor Rory helps present the work of mental health scientists and activists through fortnightly one-hour episodes. The episodes have been downloaded more than 10,000 times. In fact, Professor Rory appears in an interview on the MQ Open Minds podcast with our final researcher that we would like to highlight on this International Men’s Day.
Professor David Nutt
One of those interviewed on our MQ Open Mind podcast is Professor David Nutt. David specializes in research into drugs that affect the brain and conditions such as addiction, anxiety and sleep. David is currently researching whether psychedelic drugs can be effective against treatment-resistant depression.
“I’ve probably given more different types of drugs, particularly illegal drugs, to humans and anyone alive, maybe ever… Psychedelics will revolutionize psychiatry. Whether it’s depression, eating disorders, addiction… they will be transformative.” Professor David Nut
David has been fascinated by science since he was a child. He recalls, in his interview on MQ Open Minds, that he was a 10-year-old boy when science at school led him to become “fascinated by the mind.”
David and his colleagues have worked hard to understand the effects psychedelics can have on the brain and as many varieties of psychedelics as they can. In their own words, they have done “the definitive imaging work” on the effects of psilocybin, LSD, DMT and now 5-MeO-DMT, also known as “the God molecule.” David’s team is investigating the brain fingerprint of these drugs. And how widely we can use the effects.
Now, David and his team are organizing a pilot study, starting in 2024, into whether psychedelics can help people break free of heroin addiction.
Research can change the world. By supporting MQ, you are supporting positive changes that researchers like those mentioned above can make in society. Donating to MQ Mental Health Research brings us all closer to a mentally healthier future.