We caught up with Jessica O’Logbon, who has just completed her PhD on the relationship between parental mental health and child psychiatric disorder in the Survey of Mental Health in Children and Young People in England 2017.
Research group: MHCYP/RESHAPE
Supervisor: Prof Tamsin Ford
Advisor: Dr Joanna Anderson
• Can you give us a short background into what your PhD/MPhil was about?
Mental health disorders are one of the top ten leading causes of disease burden worldwide, with no evidence of reduction in this burden since 1990. Global prevalence estimates for mental health disorders have rapidly increased since the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, presenting one of the biggest health challenges of the 21st century. Of adult psychiatric cases, half start to show symptoms by the age of 14 and approximately three-quarters meet diagnostic criteria before the age of 18 so, it is no surprise that mental health disorders are currently the primary cause of health-related disability in children and adolescents.
Several common risk factors have been identified for child and adolescent mental health disorders such as female gender, genetic predisposition, low family socioeconomic status and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). The latter are highly stressful events occurring in childhood or adolescence (0–18 years) that can negatively impact mental and physical health and parental mental illness is an ACE. Approximately 17–28% of families worldwide include a parent with mental health symptoms and their children are at elevated risk of psychopathology. However, there has been limited work on the impact of child psychiatric disorder on parental mental health. Children with mental health disorders are known to be both an antecedent and a consequence of parental stress and strain on the parent-child relationship.
Overall, gaps in the literature still exist concerning the relationship between parent mental health and psychopathology in children and the mediators and moderators of the relationship could be examined further to elucidate the pathways through which they affect one another and ascertain the primary risk and protective factors that change the strength and direction of these pathways.
Therefore, to address these gaps, this study used survey data from parents and their children across a wide age range (2-19 years) to examine the association between child and parental mental health, in both directions, accounting for a range of salient parent, child and family factors that may be involved in this relationship.
• How would you sum up your main findings?
More children with a psychiatric disorder had a parent in poor mental health compared to children with no disorder. More parents in poor mental health had a child with a psychiatric disorder compared to parents in good mental health. This persisted for emotional disorders only. Stressful life events and unhealthy family functioning were significant correlates for both parent and child psychopathology. Child sex (female) was found to fully moderate the relationship. There were significantly greater odds of a child being diagnosed with an emotional disorder if they had low self-esteem. There were significantly greater odds of a parent being in poor mental health if they were from a low socioeconomic background (namely, unemployed and had a low household income).
• What made you want to do an MPhil?
I applied to the MPhil programme at Cambridge to tap into my interest in paediatric neurodevelopment and psychiatry; to gain more experience in research; and strengthen my data analysis skills whilst helping to tackle some of the biggest clinical burdens that I will be facing as a future doctor. Although I am only halfway through my medical career (4th year medical student now), my specialty interests lie in Paediatrics and Psychiatry. This MPhil was a fantastic opportunity to combine my interests in both of these specialties and therefore, will be applicable and desirable for my future career. An MPhil provides advanced research skills and experience which are valued by a range of employers.
• What was your best day during your MPhil?
My best days were my matriculation at Corpus Christi and the Psychiatry symposium at the beginning of the year. I got to meet other Psychiatry MPhil and PhD students and we debated whether psychiatry should abolish traditional DMS-V based categorisations of mental health disorders and employ a transdiagnostic approach for both diagnosis and treatment. It was an intense but interesting discussion!
• What was your worst day during your PhD?
I really struggled with getting my head around the statistics for some of my project and remember being extremely stressed and reaching out to Dr Anderson in a state. After chatting through things, coming up with a plan of action and feeling reassured with the quality of my work so far I was able to meet with the research group’s statistician to go through things, which really helped me get through.
• Do you have any words of advice to future PhD/MPhil students in Psychiatry?
The MPhil is a chance for you to conduct your own piece of research and answer a research question you’re genuinely interested in. It is no mean feat! But organising yourself and an outline of your research project as early as possible and maintaining prompt and clear contact with your supervisor will get your through the year. There will be difficult hurdles to overcome but really try to get involved in your research team and identify who may be able to help you at times of need. Also, let your interests run wild (a little). I got involved in writing a paper using the same data for my thesis but looking at eating disorders (which I didn’t investigate in depth in my thesis work). I ended up being published and it was a great experience: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/eat.23833
• What do you hope to do next?
I have one more year of medical school before I graduate as a doctor! I want to undertake the specialised foundation programme at Cambridge. The Psychiatry department was based at Addenbrooke’s hospital, so it was a chance to see where I may be working one day. I hope to pursue a career in Child & Adolescent Psychiatry or Paediatrics. A big dream of mine is to be able to influence policy-making and clinical practice with my work – via governments, and public health organisations like the WHO and abroad (I hope to complete some work with ‘Doctors without Borders’).