In the mid-1990s, the medical anthropologist, Merill Singer, introduced the term “syndemic” to describe the simultaneous epidemics of the prior decade. Substance abuse, violence, and AIDS had acted synergistically to devastate vulnerable populations around the globe.
During the Department of Psychiatry’s annual symposium, Professor Paul Fletcher used the same term to describe the current COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 has exacerbated pre-existing barriers to mental wellbeing, including domestic violence, social isolation, gender/racial disparities, and addiction. In the face of this syndemic, it is perhaps more important than ever for the department to continue its work. Thus the annual symposium carried on virtually, allowing postgraduate students to showcase their research and interests.
The virtual format of the symposium required creative innovation to limit Zoom fatigue and address the unprecedented circumstances. To this end, student contributions were voluntary for the first time and were permitted to cover any material, either directly or indirectly related to their research. The six student contributions, presented in a variety of formats, covered a vast array of topics from structural bias in psychiatry to sensory perception in individuals with autism:
- Nina Lutz: Considering Lived Experience in Psychiatric Research
- Ayan Mandal: “Nothing But Science and Its Academic Delights”: A reflection on the irony of clinical research
- Charley Peitzmeier: Who tells your story? Structural bias and power dynamics in Psychiatry
- Anna Chaplin: The mental health of young people leaving the care system in England
- Nazia Jassim: Brain function and sensory perception in autism
- Elizabeth Weir: The sexual preferences and sexual health of autistic adults
The contributions were made available to symposium attendees prior to the event and were subsequently discussed in breakout rooms. Attendees then reconvened for a group question-and-answer session with the student contributors. The symposium also featured introductions from new postgraduate students, reflections from faculty members on their experiences during the pandemic, and an opening and closing speech from the Head of Department, Professor Ed Bullmore. Forty-three members of the department attended from around the globe. Overcoming logistical challenges at every turn, the Graduate Education Committee, spearheaded by Adisa Broadhurst, managed to plan a symposium that allowed colleagues to see each other’s faces for the first time in months and reconnect with our departmental community.
– written by Anna Chaplin, Ayan Mandal, and Camice Revier