On Tuesday 28th February, clinical psychologist and University of Liverpool lecturer Richard Bentall led a talk on mental health. Bentall focused on the implications for students, the factors leading to mental illness, and his beliefs based on research conducted over the past 10 years.
Although Bentall’s interest lies mainly in what are considered “extreme” mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia and bipolar, Bentall discussed the idea that mental health does, in fact, “exist in the world” rather than the individual. Rejecting the longstanding ideas that have been fundamental in the understanding and diagnosis of mental illnesses, Bentall suggested that evidence brought about through epidemiology (broader community based research), taxometrics (statistical analysis of symptoms), and polygenic models (the exploration of genetical factors) was enough justification to prove that the old beliefs are “BS”. Bentall’s view offers a radical departure from mainstream psychiatry.
Bentall argues that in order to reduce the number of people who suffer with mental ill health, we must ask: “is there something that can be done to everyone?” and “what are the drivers of poor mental health?” He continued, throughout his entire presentation, to refer to the influence on young children. Although the factors do impact adults too, individuals are most vulnerable to develop a mental health condition during childhood.
To support his points, Bentall referred to several studies, including one discovering that inner city children run a higher risk of mental ill health. One of the most poignant statistics, that caused a passionate reaction from Bentall, was “if everyone lived outside of the city, there would be 15 per cent fewer schizophrenia patients”. The location in which someone lives, according to Bentall, plays one of the largest roles in the development of mental health issues . However, there are social differences within places: Bentall reported that groups of migrants with a different skin colour are at a greater risk of suffering psychosis – up to five times greater.
Bentall’s focus soon shifted to the students of Liverpool. Through questionnaires sent to students in the past two academic years, Bentall discovered that social isolation and a feeling of not belonging in the city were huge contributing factors to poor mental health. LGBT+ students are also at a greater risk of mental ill-health in comparison to heterosexual groups. It transpired that this academic year, 2016-2017, just over 40 per cent of participants in the questionnaire had symptoms of moderate anxiety. But for Bentall, the “worrying” figure was that just under 10 per cent of Liverpool students presented signs of suffering with both anxiety and depression at a severe level.
His belief that “most people suffer mild mental health issues”, such as anxiety and depression, was one of the important messages that he out across during the talk, and it was the impact of social factors that cause such mental ill-health to come to fruition.
There will be future questionnaires sent out by the psychology department, and Bentall was keen on encouraging all students to take part in order to gain a better, more in-depth understanding of the mental health of students at the University of Liverpool, and beyond.