Dr Benjamin Baig on the importance of mental health awareness

'The need greatly outstrips the resource in terms of both the understanding of and the research into mental health problems and care… I think it’s really important that we try to push it up the agenda'

Dr Benjamin Baig, Clinical Senior Lecturer in Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College London, tells us why it’s so important that we continue to shine a spotlight on the issue of mental health and how King’s research is driving positive change in both the attitude towards mental health and care.

Listen to the interview in full or read a brief extract from the interview below.

Why should we put mental health in the spotlight?

I think it’s very important that we put mental health in the spotlight at the moment because mental health conditions are so common. Research shows us that mental health is the greatest disease burden in the world for young adults and young people.

How has the approach changed since you started your career?

Our understanding of genetics and the genetic contributions to mental health conditions has increased, giving us an understanding of the different genes involved in schizophrenia and depression.

Another really important change is to do with our new understanding of conditions like depression. That we’re aware that inflammation and the immune system play a massive role in why people suffer from depression.

There are also other more social things, I think the stigma of mental illness has decreased over the last twenty years which is really important.

Your top tips for any aspiring psychiatrists?

There are so many fascinating parts of psychiatry, from the research to the ethics and the philosophy behind it. So I would say keep up to speed with what’s going on.

Psychiatry and psychiatrists faced a lot of stigma in the past, and I say don’t let that put you off, don’t let people beat you down because they don’t think it’s an important part of medicine because it really is.

I think there’s a really strong message that you will feel things really strongly when you meet patients and you hear their stories. I think it’s really important to know that that emotional rollercoaster is worth it.

How did King’s influence you?

The IoPPN at King’s is the most highly cited institution for psychiatry and mental health. The research produced at King’s is of such fantastic quality and there are so many areas of this that interest me. One is to do with the impact of inflammation on depression and the research into that. And there’s a good understanding at the moment at King’s of the crossover between mental health problems and physical health problems.

Why should we fundraise for mental health?

I think this is a timely issue as we can see the need greatly outstrips the resource. One of the sad things is that mental health charities are so far behind in terms of their funding compared to other health charities.

Are we moving in the right direction?

There’s a better understanding of how we should support people. And I think there’s a movement that is decreasing the amount of stigma around mental health conditions with celebrities and Royals talking about it more than they would have 20 years ago. So I think there are some really positive things to look forward to.

To read a full transcript of this interview please click here.

Dr Baig is a Consultant Liaison Psychiatrist at St Thomas’ Hospital, London, and has trained in both Adult and Child Psychiatry. Having gained an MPhil and PhD in Schizophrenia Genetics and Depression in Inflammatory Bowel Disease, his main interest is in psychiatric problems in the general hospital.

He will be part of the round-table discussion at Alumni Weekend 2018 Who Will Lead Humanity Forward? at which we will decide which discipline has scope to affect the most significant change and progress for our world.

Book your tickets for Alumni Weekend 2018, taking place 8 – 10 June, by clicking here.

Join the conversation using #ForeverKings

Mental Health Awareness Week takes place 14 – 20 May 2018, hosted by the Mental Health Foundation. For more information click here.