Research: Child and family mental health
Almost all of the work I currently undertake, in some way or another, comes under the general umbrella of 'child and family mental health'. You will find details about children's sleep on a dedicated page on this website. Another area of my research focuses on maternal mental illness; a major risk factor from postnatal depression and postpartum psychosis is the potential effect it has on the developing child. You will discover more about that on the perinatal mental health web page.
However, this page is dedicated to the research (and community work) that specifically focuses on young people with a range of behavioural and emotional difficulties.
I am working with Future Roots, a social enterprise based on Rylands Farm at Holnest (near Sherborne), north Dorset. The farm receives referrals from schools across Dorset for pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties who are at risk of exclusion or who are non-attenders. Unmet mental health needs among this group of young people has led to both problems in school, failure to find education or employment options at 16, and problems with drug and alcohol abuse. Future Roots uses the farm environment to successfully re-engage young people, with methods such as animal-assisted therapy.
The Countrymen's Club
Recently, Future Roots received funding from the Big Lottery to establish The Countrymen's Club, whereby older men in the rural Dorset community are invited to work on the farm with the children - providing potentially significant benefits to both old and young people. I was awarded £7000 to evaluate the project. We will present the findings in due course.
Care farming: providing brighter futures for young and old
In a joint project between Bournemouth University and Future Roots, we are conducting a three-year programme, as part of a PhD project. The main aim of the project is to 'explore benefits of a care farm model on improving physical and mental health outcomes for older people and behaviourally-challenged young people, and improving intergenerational interaction'. Click here for more information.
Educating young people about mental health
Many mental illnesses have an initial onset in late adolescence. All too often, we hear how young people are not prepared when they encounter diagnoses for the first time. If mental health was routinely taught in schools, particularly about diagnoses, possible causes, treatments, prognoses and support, the impact might be less dramatic. Young people could be taught about this, but also about promoting good mental health, encouraging open dialogue, reducing stigma, and about looking out for friends. I am currently looking at developing, and evaluating, mental health education in schools.
Impact of child sexual abuse on developing (later) mental illness
The link between child abuse and later mental health problems is well known. In short, when a child is subjected to sexual abuse, they are significantly more likely to develop eating disorders in childhood, and experience (often serious) mental illness in late adolescence, including mood disorders and psychoses. While many psychiatric conditions have a biological component, child sexual abuse is a major environmental trigger for onset. Early intervention may be a key moderator to developing serious mental illness. I will be working with ActsFast, a Dorset-based child abuse charity, to explore the benefit of providing support to the protective parent/carer of sexually abused children.