Mental Health Research Champs Show Others That There's Hope; Mark Smith Meets Four People Who Took Part in a Research Project for the National Centre for Mental Health, Helping the Understanding of Mental Conditions. They Talk Here about Their Experiences

South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales), December 9, 2015 | Go to article overview

Mental Health Research Champs Show Others That There's Hope; Mark Smith Meets Four People Who Took Part in a Research Project for the National Centre for Mental Health, Helping the Understanding of Mental Conditions. They Talk Here about Their Experiences


The National Centre for Mental Health (NCMH) is helping Wales become a world leader in understanding the triggers and causes of mental health problems. More than 5,000 volunteers with a variety of conditions have now taken part in its research since the centre was founded in April 2011.

Now an inspirational group of people have come forward as 'Research Champions' for NCMH, to talk openly about their experiences of mental health in a bid to reduce stigma and encourage others to take part in research.

Jenny Thomas, research psychology assistant at the centre, said: "We are so grateful to everyone who has taken part in this research, otherwise we wouldn't have made such great progress in understanding certain conditions.

"We see a whole variety of people coming through the centre, from young children to older adults - it demonstrates how a mental health problem can happen to anyone at any time.

"Taking part is totally confidential, but some people choose to come forward and tell their stories. These Research Champions are knocking down walls and reducing stigma and we're so grateful to them."

The National Centre for Mental Health, which is a partnership between Cardiff, Swansea and Bangor University, aims to improve diagnosis and treatment by engaging with the public.

Researchers often travel across Wales to talk to people with experience of mental health in their own homes.

As well as looking at the social and environmental side of a person's experiences with mental ill health, researchers also delve into the genetic side of things, taking biological samples to improve how genes affect our chances of developing mental illness.

Communications officer Lee Eynon said: "Our Research Champions show that normal people have mental health problems. A lot of people don't see the person, they see the problem.

"By opening up about their real-life experiences, our Research Champions are showing other people - in similar positions - that they're not alone.

"But while our champions do wonderful work we are equally grateful to the thousands of volunteers who anonymously contribute to our research."

Four of the research champions gathered at Cardiff University's Hadyn Ellis building on November 24 to talk about how being a part of the NCMH has improved their lives - and help build up a "bank" of knowledge around a particular illness.

MAIR ELLIOTT Teenager Mair has battled with eating disorders, anxiety, depression and autism spectrum disorder for a large chunk of her adolescent years.

The keen horse rider started using child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) when she was 15 and spent several evenings in accident and emergency after harming herself.

The 19-year-old student believes the standard of care for mental health lags severely behind physical health in Wales.

But she feels becoming a Research Champion, and also speaking in front of the camera for S4C and the BBC about her conditions, has been a gift.

The Pembrokeshire teenager said: "Some people have hearts or lungs that don't work properly, but for me it's my brain that doesn't work properly - and that's okay.

"I had always known I was different but I never knew why. When I was depressed, it was like a light switching off in my head. It was like a hollow, heavy feeling.

After receiving a talking treatment called Dialectical Behaviour Therapy she has stopped self-harming and is now on the road to recovery - but she knows she will never be cured.

"I'm always going to be autistic. I quite like being autistic, but people don't understand that. I will still have bad days, but I learn from what I've been through."

Mair first heard about NCMH from her mother, and their pair decided to become volunteers together.

"I wanted to volunteer because, as someone who loves science, I knew that the only way forward in discovering the causes and the risk factors behind mental illness and developing better treatments is through scientific research. …

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