IMH Annual Report 2022 Accessible version

A review and rundown of 2022 at the Institute for Mental Health 

Introduction from the Director of the Institute for Mental Health 
Professor Matthew Broome

2022 felt a little more normal for the Institute. By April, it seemed as if the University had fully re-opened, we had an in-person strategy event at The Exchange in June, and, in the new academic year in October, we were able to welcome our third cohort to the MSc Mental Health and our new doctoral researchers in our Wellcome Trust-funded Midlands Mental Health and Neurosciences PhD Programme for Healthcare Professionals. In parallel, it has been exciting seeing the refurbishment of Gisbert Kapp progress over the year, in particular, how the new Wolfson Research Unit for Youth Mental Health and the Clinical Research Facility has come together. This offers the IMH a bespoke research space, allowing us to bring together wider academic colleagues from across the University, with researchers in the NHS, schools, and social care, and increased space for the youth advisory group and our doctoral students. 

 In August of 2022 the IMH reached its 5-year anniversary, allowing us an opportunity to reflect on the investment we’d received alongside our achievements with senior leaders at the University.  At this point, we’d far exceeded the targets set for us in terms of grant capture and MSc recruitment, and are seen as rapidly becoming one of the leading centres of mental health research in UK, focusing on interdisciplinary youth mental health, with a strong and distinctive international profile and real-world impacts.

 In October we heard the fantastic news that the Oxford Health NIHR Biomedical Research Centre application (£35M) had been successful, which includes the IMH together with our NHS partners, Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust and Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust. This brings a substantial investment in mental health research infrastructure, across five themes, to the University and Trusts. We also hope in 2023 to be one of two UK Mental Health Mission sites (£9.9M) for the Office of Life Sciences/NIHR, recognising our track record and expertise in translational research in mood and psychotic disorders. 

 We have an exciting year ahead: a new physical space, increased support for translational research with the NHS, and new staff having joined us and to join us. I am particularly delighted that Ms Stacey Smith has joined us as a permanent member of staff as our Institute Operations Officer. The IMH is an internationally leading site for mental health research and teaching and, as we go forward, we will continue to address important societal problems together with our strong partnerships, interdisciplinarity, and young people, at our core.

New colleagues for 2022

Dr Emma Černis
Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychology

Dr Emma Černis ("Chur-niss") joined UoB as Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychology in March 2022. Emma's work focuses on understanding dissociative experiences from a psychological perspective, taking a primarily cognitive approach. Through her research, Emma aims to develop an effective CBT intervention for dissociative experiences and to improve the clinical care that people with dissociation are offered. As part of this work, Emma hopes her work can raise awareness of dissociation amongst clinicians and improve their confidence working with it. Prior to joining UoB, Emma held various clinical and research roles supporting people of all ages experiencing psychosis across the full range of clinical severity, including on clinical trials of CBT.

Dr Isabel Morales-Muñoz
Assistant Professor in Psychology

Dr Isabel Morales-Muñoz is Assistant Professor in Psychology based at the Institute for Mental Health, School of Psychology, University of Birmingham. Her main area of research is to investigate risk factors for youth mental health, with a special focus on investigating the role of sleep problems in the development of mental health problems. Her current work is mainly focused on secondary data analyses (e.g. birth cohort studies, such as ALSPAC, Millennium cohort), but she has also expertise in using different scientific methods, including clinical assessments, neuropsychological testing and ERP assessments. 

Stacey Smith
Operations Officer

Stacey Smith is the Operations Officer for the Institute for Mental Health. Stacey has been at the University of Birmingham since October 2017 and joined the IMH in January 2022. Stacey is part of the Professional Services Team and she plays a central role in supporting the Director in the day-to-day management of the Institute focussing on Operational, Finance and Strategic Support as well as Marketing & Communications. Prior to joining UoB, Stacey has enjoyed various roles in the Education Sector including Teacher Training and a Secondary School. 

Ifigeneia Manitsa
Research Fellow

Ifigeneia Manitsa is a Research Fellow in Youth Mental Health at the Institute for Mental Health. Her research expertise lies in the socio-emotional development and educational inclusion of adolescents with vision impairment. In her PhD research she examined the social inclusion of adolescents with vision impairment, an under researched area that is of increasing interest to researchers and policy makers. 

Dr Gerald Jordan
Assistant Professor

Dr. Gerald Jordan is an Assistant Professor in the School of Psychology. His programme of research examines how people transform their lives and communities following a serious mental health challenge; and how such transformations are shaped by personal, social and community-level determinants of health and resilience. He conducts his research in partnership with people with lived experience of mental health challenges using mixed methods. 

New Funding

2022 saw new funding opportunities for IMH, with two large mental health projects releasing funding that represent a great opportunity for the Institute to undertake detailed research and transform care for mental and brain health across the UK.

Details of further funding awards in 2022 can be found in our Research Themes section.

NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre

The Institute for Mental Health is part of a significant programme to deliver innovative treatments and therapies in brain health with £35.4 million award made to the NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre and part of a package of funding from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) for Biomedical Research Centres (BRC) in a competitive process involving international review. The University of Birmingham is a partner in the programme, along with the city’s Mental Health Trusts, Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust and Birmingham and Solihull NHS Foundation Trust.

Theme areas, including depression therapeutics, mental health in development with a focus on children and young people, psychological treatments and brain technologies, can now be advanced by leading scientists, clinicians and academics who are linked via a network of centres of excellence in brain health.

This important investment will support discovery science in emerging and established mental illness, offer our population the benefits of new therapeutic advances for depression and psychosis, and lead the development of a clinical data analysis pipeline for new brain imaging technologies.

This collective expertise will help improve our mechanistic understanding of health and illness, and will prioritise the experiences of young people throughout, working closely with them and their communities to support their flourishing and wellbeing.

It builds on the success of the current centre which has, over the past five years, delivered new psychological and digital treatments, advances in drug discovery and new ways of integrating research and clinical care.

The new award now provides us with a wonderful opportunity to transform care for mental and brain health and wellbeing across the whole country and, actually, the world. We can now translate the best research from UK biomedical science, data science and engineering, social science and arts and the humanities for the benefit of clinical care and population health.

We are enormously grateful to the NIHR and the International Panel for both understanding and generously supporting our ambitious plans and vision. We are now looking forward to co-designing with patients and the public powerful new approaches that can be tested, refined and then implemented across the NHS and beyond.

Research Themes

Innovation in Policy, Systems and Services

Researching Innovation in Policy Systems and Services (IPSS) is integral to providing high quality care and support for young people who experience poor mental health. The IPSS research theme connects an international group of approximately 40 interdisciplinary scholars working across four key policy areas aligned with mental health: Implementation science and Mental Health; Environment and Mental Health; Conflict and Mental Health; Education and Mental Health. We aim to develop, research and evaluate current innovations in policy, systems and services in order to reduce both the occurrence and the impact of mental health difficulties.

Getting the service architecture and infrastructure right to support young people with their mental health is essential to improving access to and with engagement support services. High quality research into policy, health, social care, education and other systems that coalesce to provide support for young people is an important element of this. The Innovation in Policy Systems and Services (IPSS) research theme hosts a network of 40 global researchers aligned to one of our four areas of focus for the IPSS theme:  Implementation science; Environment and climate change; Education; and Conflict and Post-Conflict contexts. The IMH is ideally situated as an interdisciplinary research centre with a specific youth mental health focus, to deliver high quality internationally relevant research that informs and impacts upon public policy and practice in order to improve the care and outcomes for people experiencing problems with their mental health.

Last year (2022) we hosted the inaugural meeting for the research theme in which we set our priorities for the group. We have recruited a network of 40 global researchers aligned to one of four areas of priority and focus in relation to youth mental health. We aim to develop, promote and evaluate current innovations in policy, systems and services in order to reduce both the occurrence and the impact of mental health difficulties.

If you would like further information please get in touch with the co-theme lead Dr Sarah – Jane Fenton

Self-harm and Suicide Prevention

Suicide is a global public health concern and one of the leading causes of death in young people worldwide. We seek to understand the underlying factors that drive self-harming and suicidal behaviour in young people with multiple vulnerabilities and use that knowledge to develop targeted interventions.  

In 2022 research into the key missing piece in the self-harm and suicide research literature which is the relationship between self-harm and eating disorders continued. This is being carried out as part of the NIHR funded SHINE Study, Self-Harm in Eating Disorders: A Mixed-Methods Exploratory Study.

We were also delighted to announce that The 11 Foundation are helping discover how we can better help young people experiencing suicidal thoughts and self-harm through their 11 Foundation, with a gift of £30,000 to support vital youth mental health research at the University of Birmingham.

Multidisciplinary Approaches to the Neuroscience of Mental Health

Our ambition is to understand the role of the brain in mental health in young people, across development, and in adults.  By bringing together a range of tools and expertise, we take a multidisciplinary approach that links together biological, psychological and social processes to mental health.

Matthew Apps was awarded a Jacobs Foundation Fellowship (£120k) to examine the psychological and neural mechanisms underlying deadline pressures in young people and how it relates to mental health and a BBSRC grant (£200k) to examine the computational basis of foraging behaviours. A paper from Matthew’s lab won the Society for Neuroeconomics best paper award and a paper from Matthew Apps and Pat Lockwood won the Society and Affective Neuroscience Society innovation award in 2022.

A research symposium ‘Neuroscience of Mental Health Symposium’ as part of the Celebrating Research and Impact School event (School of Psychology) took place in June 2022 with talks by Dr Jack Rogers, Dr Paris Lalousis and Dr Ali Mazaheri.

Two further events are currently being planned for 2023

Webinar ‘Childhood adversity, the brain and psychosis’ – 23/01/2023 – Organised by Dr Maria Dauvermann
Movie night ‘Resilience’ – 26/01/2023 – Organised by Dr Ed Day with contribution from Dr Maria Dauvermann

Justice, Equalities and Capabilities

Young people are not always offered the resources that they need in order to understand their current situations and process their own experiences; in particular experiences of distress. This is made more challenging when their mental distress is linked to other sources of exclusion or vulnerability such as gender and ethnicity, LGBTQ issues, migrant or refugee status, homelessness, poverty and young motherhood.

LGBTQ+ young people’s mental health inequalities
This year has seen a continued focus on LGBTQ+ young people’s mental health inequalities with a major UK study completed and two new studies starting.

Prof Liz McDermott is the Chief Investigator for Queer Futures 2 is a large national UK study, taking place across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, over the course of three years.  The main purpose of the study is to identify and evaluate early intervention mental health support and services for LGBTQ+ young people.

The Good Measure Project
Funded by the Medical Research Council aims to advance understanding of links between adolescent gender and sexual identities, sexuality, sexual wellbeing and mental health/wellbeing to improve mental health research. This is a collaboration between Prof Liz McDermott, the University of Glasgow and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. The study is working with a range of young people organisations.

The Trevor Project
A collaboration between the University of Birmingham, led by Prof McDermott with Jason Schaub and Willem Stander, and the internationally renowned US charity The Trevor Project.  The study aims to understand the mental health experiences of LGBTQ+ young people in the UK particularly for those who are BAME, may have a disability, live in poverty or have ‘care’ experiences. The McPin Foundation are working with the research team to ensure that LGBTQ+ young people’s perspectives are central to the study.

Mental Health Data Science and Epidemiology

Data Science is at the cutting edge of mental health research, traversing the study of the causes of mental disorders, their development, onset and experience of them, and presents opportunities to translate data driven insights to benefits for patients. The theme has rapidly developed in the last year in its capacity, know how, network, grants and in outputs. More and more work is being undertaken to understand the biological and psychosocial basis of mental disorders. Our collaborations are also expanding into multiple other units, universities and data science groups maximising the interdisciplinarity of this research theme collaborating with the Centre for Systems Modelling and Quantitative Biomedicine, the Institute of Applied Health Research and the Youth Advisory Group. The theme has had multiple high impact publications including in Lancet Psychiatry, Lancet Respiratory Medicine, Jama Psychiatry, Biological Psychiatry and Nature Medicine.

Wellcome Mental Health Data Prize: Discovery Phase
The purpose of this project is to detect the combination(s) of active ingredients occurring by age 11 that associate with lower risk of persistent high levels of depression across adolescence and young adulthood (from 13 to 18 years), using the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) cohort.
£40000 awarded over 6 months: Aug 2022 – Feb 2023
PI: Dr Isabel Morales-Munoz; Co-applicant from the IMH: Prof Steven Marwaha; Others: Prof Christopher Yau, Dr David Wong, Dr Alexander Zhigalov, Dr Pavan Mallikarjun, Dr Anna Moore, Buse Durdurak and Beckye Williams.

NIHR CRN: Improvement and Innovation Award
Developing a West Midlands Research Platform for Treatment-Resistant Depression.
£47623 awarded over 11 months: Apr 2021 – Mar 2022
CI: Dr Danielle Hett. Professor S Marwaha Joint Co-Lead.

IHR/ MRC: Research into the longer term effects of COVID-19 in non-hospitalised individuals
Therapies for Long COVID in non-hospitalised individuals: From symptoms, patient reported outcomes and immunology to targeted therapies (The TLC Study).
£2257157 awarded over 33 months: Mar 2021 – Feb 2022
CIs: Dr Shamil Haroon/ Prof Calvert. Co-Investigator: Professor S Marwaha.

Early Intervention and Prevention

The UK is a global leader in the delivery of national, evidence-based early intervention in psychosis. Our goal is to extend the breadth of this impact to common mental health disorders, such as depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders. By intervening earlier in the life-course we are taking a truly preventative approach with focus on potential causes including bullying, deprivation, substance misuse and childhood trauma. It’s been a busy year for members of the Primed+ Lab at the IMH. The PRIMED+ (Psychosis Risk Immune Multimodal Early Detection Plus) research group is particularly interested in how environmental biological measures can help identify individuals who are at increased risk for developing psychosis, and early outcomes after psychosis has occurred. These are findings that can be translated into targeted interventions.

The group investigate the association and causal mechanisms between increased innate inflammation and psychosis, developing a clinical model of psychosis and informed immune-related phenotyping.

We’ve welcomed four new members to the Primed+ group at the IMH this year; Chloe Clifford is a PhD student funded by the MRC-AIM DTP, working with Dr Jack Rogers, Prof. Upthegrove, Dr Katshu (Nottingham) and Autifony Therapeutics Ltd. Dr Ed Palmer has joined as a PhD student as part of the Wellcome Clinical DTP working with Prof. Upthegrove, Dr Jack Rogers, and Professor Matthew Broome. We also have former MSc Brain Imaging and Cognitive Neuroscience student Aanya Malaviya who joins Dr Maria Dauvermann as a Research Assistant working on a project related to childhood adversity, early life experiences and their impact on brain function. And lastly, Ella Warwick is the Birmingham Research Associate for PIMS, a multi-site trial investigating the role of inflammation in Psychosis.

In 2022 we presented work at a number of Symposiums including:

  • Using data science to refine the biotype of immune active psychosis
  • British Association for Psychopharmacology – Chaired by Professors Bill Deakin and Rachel Upthegrove
  • Discussing the social disadvantage and health inequities in early psychosis
  • Schizophrenia International Research Society – Co-chaired by Dr Lowri Griffiths
  • Examining the association between psychosis and migration – from risk to outcome
  • EPA Section in Epidemiology & Social Psychiatry – Co-chaired by Dr Lowri Griffiths

Research Updates

SEYMOUR: Tackling youth suicide with a novel system dynamics modelling approach

Dr Michail was awarded a three-year Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Global Fellowship to explore how systems modelling and simulation can inform strategic decision making for suicide prevention in young people aged 12-25 in Australia and the UK. Maria is currently working with Orygen, Melbourne; the world’s largest translational research institute in youth mental health and suicide prevention, where she will spend the first two years of her fellowship. There, she is embedded in the Suicide Prevention Unit led by Professor Jo Robinson. During her time with Orygen, Maria will develop and evaluate a computer simulation model of mental health service pathways and suicidal behaviour among young people in North-West Melbourne. This will be done through co-production workshops with young people with lived experience of self-harm/suicidal behaviour, carers, clinicians, policy makers and commissioners. Maria will also carry out a research visit at the Brain and Mind Centre, University of Sydney where she will work in collaboration with Associate Professor Jo-An Occhipinti, Head of Systems Modelling, Simulation & Data Science. Maria will return to the University of Birmingham for the third year, working with Professor Waring (Health Services Management Centre), a world-leading expert in implementation of healthcare.

Midlands Sleep Network

The Midlands Sleep Group (MSG) is a group of clinicians, academics and practitioners, with a broad interest in sleep and sleep research, which was established in 2017. Dr Isabel Morales-Munoz (from the IMH) and Prof Brendan Cooper (Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham) are the MSG Co-Chairs, and currently the group features 21 members, including core and affiliated members. The main purpose of the group is to highlight the relevance of sleep and to showcase the work that is being done on the topic of sleep in the Midlands. In 2022, the MSG has organized quarterly research webinars on the topic of sleep. Recently, the MSG has been awarded an MRC Proximity to Discovery Industry Engagement Fund (P2D) to organize a 1-day event on sleep in March 2023. Here, the MSG members will present their recent work on sleep and this will be an event targeted to industry partners, academics/clinicians and the wide public. 

Better Than Well

Better Than Well (BTW), the University of Birmingham Collegiate Recovery Program (CRP), has completed its first year of operation.  This is the first university-led CRP in the UK and has been supported by a philanthropic donation by the CrEdo Foundation.  A total of 34 students, studying over 20 different degree subjects contacted BTW since September 2021.  The growth of the BTW programme has exceeded all expectations in 2022. Based on feedback from more established programmes in the USA, our goal at the start of the year was to establish a regular weekly Celebration of Recovery supporting up to 5 students.  By the end of the academic year there were 18 students participating on a weekly basis in BTW activities. 

As well as a weekly programme including daily drop-ins, recovery meetings, welcome meetings, meditation and sober socials the team have also engaged in a number of activities to promote the programme, including a feature in Old Joe magazine, attendance at Welcome week, public engagement events, collaboration with the student wellbeing team and the commissioning of short videos to profile the great work that is being done.  Outside of the University the BTW team, led by Dr Ed Day, continue to raise awareness; In June they delivered a workshop about developing a Collegiate Recovery Program at the NUS SOS Conference, In July they delivered a presentation about BTW and addiction recovery on campus at the UKESAD conference in London and also delivered a presentation to Wellbeing Leads from 5 Birmingham universities at the Universities Mental Health Forum.  Luke Trainor, BTW Project Manager, was selected to be a baton bearer for the University of Birmingham leg of the Commonwealth baton relay. In December Ed was invited to visit Texas Tech University, the largest Collegiate Recovery Program in the world, where he gave a speech at the annual graduation ceremony for students in recovery.

Better Than Well (BTW), the University of Birmingham Collegiate Recovery Program (CRP), has completed its first year of operation.  This is the first university-led CRP in the UK and has been supported by a philanthropic donation by the CrEdo Foundation.  A total of 34 students, studying over 20 different degree subjects contacted BTW since September 2021.  The growth of the BTW programme has exceeded all expectations in 2022. Based on feedback from more established programmes in the USA, our goal at the start of the year was to establish a regular weekly Celebration of Recovery supporting up to 5 students.

Wolfson Research Unit for Youth Mental Health

The Institute for Mental Health was awarded £1.5M from the Wolfson Foundation to fund a research centre focused on supporting youth mental health. This award from the Wolfson Foundation will help to create a physical space for individuals and groups from across the university and externally to come together and collaborate in a new purposely designed, shared place.  We are pleased to announce that the refurbishment of the Gisbert Kapp building was completed in November 2022 and staff are very much looking forward to moving into the new space in January 2023.

Working Together to Tackle Bullying and Improve Mental Health in Birmingham

In 2019, we launched a partnership with Birmingham Children’s and Women’s Hospital and HSBC UK to take action on childhood bullying, a preventable root cause of mental ill health. The mental health morbidity arising from bullying is substantial; population studies suggest that 25–40% of mental health problems including depression, anxiety and self-harm in young adults may be attributable to childhood bullying. Throughout 2020, we continued this partnership, adapting the work to include supporting teachers concerned about the trauma children will have experienced during lockdown, and are planning to re-launch the intervention in schools in the new academic year. In 2021, we were fortunate to begin to roll-out the KiVa whole-school anti-bullying intervention in Birmingham, and, by the beginning of the new academic year, we had delivered the intervention to half the schools and are now currently delivering the intervention to the control group of schools. Despite the challenges schools are under, from the impact of the pandemic and with families struggling with the costs of living, we have recruited 29 schools (5300 Key Stage 2 children) to the study and are working closely with Birmingham Education Partnership to deliver these interventions. The initial baseline and trial data have been collected and we have recruited a research fellow jointly with Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust to look at rates of bullying in the city, the impact of the intervention on bullying rates, and how these vary with particular demographics and deprivation levels, as well as studying the impact of the pandemic on teacher wellbeing and burnout.  Some early findings, comparing the baseline trial data with our pilot data, show that children’s prosocial behaviour declined in 2021 with the pandemic, with increasing burnout and exhaustion in teachers during the 2020-21 period. The next year will be an exciting one for the project: we will be able to see the findings of the study and whether KiVa has reduced rates of bullying, we will complete the second year of intervention, and begin our work on dissemination and influencing policy regionally and nationally.

Renewing Phenomenological Psychopathology

Renewing Phenomenological Psychopathology is a project that aims to apply interdisciplinary approaches to phenomenological psychopathology and diversify the field more broadly. It is an International Exchange Award funded by the Wellcome Trust that will run from April 2022 to April 2024. The leaders of the project are Matthew Broome and Giovanni Stanghellini. The post-doctoral researcher is Lucienne Spencer, and the Research Fellow/Network Convenor is Roxana Baiasu.

The Renewing Phenomenological Psychopathology project was formally launched at the University of Birmingham and via Zoom on the 14th of October 2022. This was a one-day hybrid event, with online and in-person panels running simultaneously. Through this launch event, we invited critical reflection on new directions for the field of phenomenological psychopathology. In total, we had fifteen excellent speakers from multiple backgrounds and of all career stages. We had around fifty in-person attendees and over 100 online attendees. 

In 2022 we released two funding calls.

The first was the ‘International Exchange Fellowship’, which offers an individual a £3000 stipend to travel to sites across our network to undertake a placement for up to 2 months. The second was the ‘Interdisciplinary Expansion Sandpit Award’, which provides a £1500 stipend for researchers in phenomenological psychopathology, or other allied disciplines, to spark new ideas in the field by organising a sandpit event. We are currently reviewing submissions for these awards, and successful applicants will be notified in January 2023. 

In 2023 we will be offering up to £10,000 of seed corn funding for ‘Small grants and Writing Retreats’, which allows a diverse team of scholars to form around a particular research topic and to develop new work in renewing phenomenological psychopathology. We will also be offering up to £3000 of funding for the ‘Workshop and Knowledge Exchange Event Award’.

Postgraduate Researchers

At the Institute for Mental Health our academics are currently supporting 40 PhD students, supervising and co-supervising around a variety of vital research areas to address mental health challenges.  Find out about 3 of our students’ research here along with an update from our Wellcome DTP Scholars.

Nada Altaweel

Nada is a third-year Ph.D. researcher in the Institute for Mental Health.  Her research interests are in the area of mood disorders, particularly depression. Nada’s Ph.D. project focuses on personality and its role in different outcomes of depression, such as relapse and recovery. She has conducted a systematic review to identify personality traits that could be risk factors for relapse and recurrence of depression. Neuroticism and dependent personality style were associated with the risk of both relapse and recurrence in depression. The presence of personality disorders, particularly borderline personality disorder and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, have also been reported as increasing the risk for relapse of depression. Nada has also conducted a secondary data analysis study using the adult psychiatric morbidity survey to investigate the relationship between personality factors and some depression outcomes (recovery, persistence, and onset of depression). The following study is a case-control study that will explore some personality traits that have not been investigated sufficiently in the literature, such as impulsivity and emotional dysregulation, and their association with depressive relapse. Nada hopes to contribute through her work to the field of mood disorders and the development of effective intervention plans for depression.

Piyali Bhattacharya

Piyali is a 2nd year doctoral researcher in the Institute for Mental Health, School of Psychology. Her research interests lie in the areas of Personality Disorders, Psychosis, and Autism Spectrum Disorder. For her PhD she is looking into the concept of psychological independence from a cross-cultural perspective from autistic adults with associated co-occurring mental health difficulties (namely: anxiety and depression). Independence is a focus of interventions for people with neuro-developmental conditions. Despite many types of research focusing on measuring functional independence, the data is not been synthesized for research. Hence, a systematic review is conducted that aimed to identify and review measures of psychological independence in people with neurodevelopmental conditions.  There are different ways to experience and exercise independence, and different cultures may emphasize different ways of being independent. Thus, exploring both the functional and psychological dimensions warrants further investigation to measure overall independence in autistic people. A qualitative study is timely to understand how autistic people define independence in their lives and what aspects of independence are most important to autistic people. This may differ cross-culturally. The qualitative study is being undertaken which will help to outline and describe the domains that will further aid to design a comprehensive measure that would provide a quantitative measurement of overall independence. Further, a scale will be constructed that would provide a comprehensive quantitative measurement of independence. The reason to develop this scale of independence is being able to suggest appropriate targets for interventions and services, and to identify individuals who require additional support.

Sukhwinder Kaur (Essie)

Essie is a first-year Ph.D. researcher at the School of Social Policy. Her research interests are in employee mental health and organisational behaviour in healthcare services, systems and workforces. Essie’s research activities and aims include developing novel psychological- and behaviour-based interventions for improving employee mental health, communication and performance. 

Essie’s Ph.D. project focuses on NHS employee mental health and burnout, focusing on the role of communication behaviours, such as voice and silence. She is conducting a systematic review to determine a conceptual framework of silence behaviour in healthcare settings and how it may be linked to poor employee mental health, burnout and/or absenteeism. 

One of her primary research streams investigates the process of breaking bad or unexpected news in healthcare contexts with Dr Johnson at the University of Leeds. 

INDIRA Coach is being piloted as a multi-phase project to evaluate whether communication coaching could be a useful intervention for healthcare professionals and improve experiences for both staff and patients. In addition, she has worked on other projects concerning access and quality of staff mental health and wellbeing support services; improving patient access and pathways to primary care for allied health services and various research evaluation studies.

Essie uses her research knowledge and practice-based work to inform healthcare systems and services; training and development practices; workforce support and policy in practice (e.g., identifying which interventions can reduce healthcare staff burnout and improve retention). As a result on her on-going doctoral training, she is skilled in a variety of advanced statistical and specialist qualitative methods, techniques and analyses, and often undertakes mixed methods research.

Wellcome DTP Scholars

£7.24 million was awarded to the University of Nottingham to establish the programme in collaboration with the Universities of Leicester, Birmingham and Warwick and several NHS Trusts in the Midlands, including Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust. The funding provides an opportunity for a broad range of healthcare professionals from psychiatrists and neurologists to occupational therapists to complete a PhD. The new Doctoral Training Programme (DTP) began in October 2022 with 3 of the 5 successful students being hosted at UoB. On 7th December The Institute for Mental Health and Centre for Human Brain Health hosted the first training day for the new cohort of Wellcome Mental Health and Neurosciences PhD Programme for Healthcare professionals. 

The training day was led by international experts across the IMH, University of Birmingham and focussed on skills surrounding well-being and resilience (Dr. Pat Lockwood and Prof. Matthew Broome), writing a thesis (Dr. Paris Lalousis), conducting research in an NHS setting (Dr. Emma Cernis), co-production and mental health research (Prof. Liz McDermott) and work-life balance (Dr. Gerald Jordan).  

As part of the neuroscience-based well-being and resilience training the students learnt how to make a neuron out of pipe cleaners and to have the space to discuss different challenges and opportunities of conducting a PhD and being resilient to set-backs. 

One student commented on the helpfulness of this sort of session, ‘Thank you for being open about your career path and the rejections – it’s so helpful to have this sort of insight in these early stages, especially for those of us who haven’t been on an academic track’. 

We look forward to supporting the cohort over the next 3 years of their programme.

Postgraduate Taught

The Mental Health (Youth/Interdisciplinary) MSc is a growing interdisciplinary programme, bringing together several disciplines ranging from psychology, sociology and social policy to medicine, philosophy, and education. Since the programme began in 2020, it has had a total of 67 graduates, with the majority of students graduating with either a merit or distinction.  

There are 62 students currently enrolled in the 2022/3 cohort. This academic year saw the introduction of a new optional module in “Translational Cognitive Neuroscience” reflecting the programme’s expansion of interdisciplinary perspectives in mental health. The programme has a multidisciplinary teaching team, with academic experts across several schools and colleges at the University of Birmingham. 

The Youth Advisory Group

Regular engagement with our Youth Advisory Group (YAG) is integral to the work conducted at the IMH. Comprised of young people aged 18–25 with lived experience of, or a strong interest in youth mental health, the YAG works to create, shape and challenge research into youth mental health. The YAG is supported by the IMH Youth Involvement Co-Leads Niyah Campbell and Charlotte Saunders.

Throughout 2022, YAG members contributed a significant amount of time to supporting IMH-related activity. Some key contributions are detailed below:

  • Attending 50+ YAG meetings, in which YAG members offer guidance and support to researchers and PhD students in the development of new projects 
  • Co-presenting at the International Association for Youth Mental Health 2022, Copenhagen
  • Co-leading teaching sessions for University of Birmingham Medical Students
  • Co-creating accessible research-related resources for young people
  • One YAG member has joined an IMH study team to fulfil the role of ‘Lived Experience Involvement Lead’ within the project.

In 2022, we successfully obtained funding for a cross-college project that aims to evaluate and further enhance the practice of lived experience involvement in research within the University. As well as working alongside UoB colleagues, we have partnered with the McPin Foundation, national youth involvement experts. Working with McPin has provided an exciting opportunity for the IMH Youth Advisory Group and McPin Young Person’s Advisory Groups to work together, feeding into to project activities by providing lived experience perspectives and co-developing dissemination plans. A public engagement event to share knowledge developed through this project will be held mid-2023.

In September Seven YAG members attended the International Association for Youth Mental Health (IAYMH) conference in Copenhagen. YAG member Zaynab was a part of the IAYMH conference planning committee and after a successful abstract submission, the YAG presented a table-top talk focussed on their work with Dr Maria Michail to co-produce and publish #MyGPGuide.

“It was nice being at a youth conference, presenting on youth mental health research… I really enjoyed the presentation and the flow with the team was perfect. It was an amazing experience and I’m so proud and happy for our team” Rowmell

Awards, Prizes and Fellowships

Patricia Lockwood, Associate Professor, Sir Henry Dale Fellow, and Jacobs Foundation Research Fellow
Shortlisted for the Women of the Future Science Award.  Selected as a Fellow for the Association for Psychological Science  for sustained outstanding contributions to the science of psychology in the areas of research, teaching, service, and/or application.”

Matthew Apps, Associate Professor
Awarded Jacobs Foundation Research Fellowship The psychology and neuroscience of motivation. “Why do people find things effortful? Why do we often avoid effort? And how do we motivate behaviours to reach our goals?”.

Matthew Apps and Patricia Lockwood, Associate Professors
Winners of an Innovation Award for a manuscript, in collaboration with Steve Chang (Yale), from the Social and Affective Neuroscience Society.

Emma Cernis, Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychology
Nominated for the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISST-D) Pierre Janet Writing Award for her paper “Psychological mechanisms connected to dissociation: Generating hypotheses using network analyses. (2022) Journal of Psychiatric Research”.

Joan Duda, Professor of Sport and Exercise Psychology
Awarded Doctor Honoris Causa, Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon, Monterrey Mexico September 2022. Doctor Honoris Causa, Malmo University, Sweden October 2022. Included in the 2022 Stanford University’s list of the World’s Top 2% most widely cited scientists.

Paris Lalousis, Research Fellow
Institute for Mental Health: Awarded an Early Career Award from the Schizophrenia International Research Society and won the BAP award for Best Poster as well as the BAP Training Bursary.

Dr Arianna Prudenzi, Research Fellow
Institute for Mental Health: Awarded ESRC Fellowship ‘Addressing the Mental Health and Productivity of Young Workers using Contextual Behavioral Science’.

Lowri Griffiths, Research Fellow
Awarded an Early Career Travel award, a Guarantors of Brain Travel Award, and an LES Equality and Diversity Travel Award.

Fabiana Corsi-Zuelli, Visiting PhD student from the University of São Paulo (FAPESP Fellow)
Awarded two Early Career Award from SIRS and ISPNE; a Predoctoral Scholars Award from SOBP; and The Royal College of Psychiatrists, Psychopharmacology Special Committee Poster Prize at the BAP Summer meeting.

Delfina Bilello, PhD student
Won the College of Life and Environmental Sciences Special Award for her poster entitled ‘Friendships and Self-harm in young people: A retrospective study of friends’ experiences’, at the University of Birmingham LES postgraduate conference in June 2022.

Connor Dunleavy, PhD Student
Supervised by Sarah Aldred, Rachel Upthegrove and Stephen Wood.  Awarded the Schizophrenia Research Poster Award for his work entitled “Brains in a Dish! Utilising Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs) to Investigate Inflammatory Dysfunction in Schizophrenia”.

Georgia Bird, PhD student supervised by Prof Jennifer Cumming and Dr Mary Quinton
Selected for a EUniWell Thesis Prize award in the area of Individual and Social Well-being for your PhD in “Investigating emotion regulation as a risk and protective factor for student-athlete mental health”.

Collaborations and Partnerships

Discover our partnerships and collaborations from 2022.

Mental Health Lunchtime Webinar Series

During 2022 we have organised a number of very exciting research webinars by leading experts in the field of mental health. The IMH Lunchtime Webinar Series comprise monthly research webinars where we invite renown experts in fields aligned with any of our IMH research themes, including self-harm and suicide prevention; early intervention and prevention; innovation in policy, systems and services; justice, equalities and capabilities; mental health data science and epidemiology; and multidisciplinary approaches to the neuroscience of mental health. Among the exciting topics that we have covered in 2022, we would like to highlight two webinars on the ground-breaking topic of immunopsychiatry, which were magnificently presented by Prof Michael Benros (University of Copenhagen, Denmark) and Dr Vanessa Cropley (University of Melbourne, Australia). In addition, we have also covered two fascinating webinars on the field of philosophy of psychology, by Dr Anneli Jefersson (Cardiff University, uk) and Dr Clara Bergen (Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, USA). Further, we have also had invaluable presentations from internal colleagues, where they have introduced to us their latest research on Better Than Well program (By Dr Ed Day and Luke Trainor), on the U21 Autism Research Network (by Dr Sophie Sowden), and on Research into Experiences of Eating Disorders and Recovery (Dr Jwana Aziz and Rosie Pendrou).

In 2023, we will continue with more exciting Webinar Series, monthly. Some examples of the topics that we will cover include evaluation of mental health support teams in schools, biological and clinical aspects of chronic schizophrenia, recent updates from the IMH Youth Advisory Group and computational psychiatry.

Working with Network Rail

Renate Reniers, Lecturer in Psychiatry, Institute for Mental Health featured on an industry facing film by Network Rail on risk assessments surrounding trespassing alongside a number of both public and private sector industry participants, including British Transport Police and DB Cargo.  Renate’s role as a Psychologist was to help provide perspective and offset any biases around the blame lying with children or parents.

Working with NHS Partners

The IMH has a strong partnership with NHS Foundation Trusts: University Hospitals Birmingham; Birmingham Women’s and Children’s, who manage the dedicated Forward Thinking Birmingham 0–25 youth mental health service; and Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health. These partnerships have allowed us to create joint clinical academic appointments, shared research goals and strategy, innovation and translational research, ensuring our work has demonstrable impact on clinical practice.

Working with McPin Foundation

In 2022, we successfully obtained funding for a cross-college project that aims to evaluate and further enhance the practice of lived experience involvement in research within the University. As well as working alongside UoB colleagues, we have partnered with the McPin Foundation, national youth involvement experts. Working with McPin has provided an exciting opportunity for the IMH Youth Advisory Group and McPin Young Person’s Advisory Groups to work together, feeding into to project activities by providing lived experience perspectives and co-developing dissemination plans. A public engagement event to share knowledge developed through this project will be held mid-2023.

Looking forward

After a successful 2022 we are excited about what lies ahead for the Institute for Mental Health and looking forward to settling in to the new Wolfson Research Unit for Youth Mental Health.

“Our Institute for Mental Health continues to go from strength to strength. This report celebrates how our institute is attracting new colleagues, partners and funding, and how the scale and reach of our influence continues to grow. And of course, what is most important is the cumulative effect of all of these exciting developments on our ability to make a real and lasting difference to the lives of people experiencing or recovering from mental health challenges”.

Professor Ed Wilding
Head of the School of Psychology, University of Birmingham