Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Contact and Mental Health Literacy and Stigma Among Adolescents

This post is by Katharine Chisholm (pictured above), Research Fellow in the School of Psychology at the University of Birmingham. In this post she discusses the study she and colleagues conducted of mental health education for young people, published in their paper 'Impact of contact on adolescents' mental health literacy and stigma: the SchoolSpace Cluster Randomised Controlled Trial' published in BMJ Open. 

Educating young people about mental health and ill-health is important. Mental disorders impact young people disproportionally, with around two thirds of mental illnesses having their onset prior to the age of twenty-five. Young people also tend to have a relatively poor understanding of what mental illness is, and with a lack of mental health education in schools, young people report relying on popular media or cult images to gain an understanding of what mental illness might look like. These representations tend to be sensationalist at best and wildly inaccurate at worst; the Joker from Batman, reports of ‘psycho’ criminals on the news, and the (now regular) outcry from mental health charities as yet again various shopping retailers offer a ‘deranged mental health patient’ as a Halloween costume. 

Knowledge of what good mental health looks like is important in helping young people to maintain their own mental health. An understanding of when an individual might benefit from seeking help for their mental ill-health, and what kinds of help are available, is also beneficial. This kind of knowledge can help adolescents to develop resilience to stressful events, and to feel able to seek support if and when they need it. Reducing stigma and misconceptions of mental illness is of benefit to individuals who already experience mental ill-health, but also may mean that young people in need of support feel more able to seek this help, rather than feeling ashamed or ‘weak’ for not coping.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Hope and Optimism Conference in Colorado

How do hope and optimism benefit our relationships? Does optimism predict post-release outcome for the incarcerated? Can I believe what I hope? Are children optimists or realists? Those were just some of the questions discussed at the hope and optimism midterm collaboratory in Estes Park, Colorado. At this interdisciplinary conference, social scientists and philosophers funded by the Hope and Optimism Funding Initiative presented their research. While the social science projects are halfway through their research, many philosophy projects are nearing the end. In this report, I will describe only a few projects and talks in more detail. (More information on the individual projects can be found here.)

In their project on optimism in children, Laura Hennefield and Lori Markson are investigating whether young children between three and six years of age are optimistically biased and whether this bias is affected by adverse environmental influences. They have designed a number of experiments which assess whether children make unrealistically optimistic predictions regarding themselves, and whether they prefer to learn from individuals who have shown themselves to be realistic or overly optimistic.

In another social science project, Margaret Clark, Elizabeth Clark-Polner and Will Cunningham are looking at the influence of hope and optimism on our relationships. Among other things, they found that the optimism a person felt about a prospective relationship greatly influenced the amount of effort they went to initiate the relationship and the success of these efforts. Optimism was far more predictive of success in relationship initiation than the strength of the desire for such a relationship.

On the subject of hope and belief, Robert Pasnau argued that, contrary to what evidentialists hold, hope sometimes licences us in believing things on insufficient evidence. He pointed out that some beliefs have pragmatic benefits which might justify holding them, this would for example be the case if believing that we could recover from a grave illness would increase our likelihood of doing so. There are however also beliefs which are intrinsically valuable and not merely because of their positive effects, he proposed. One such belief would be the belief in the overall goodness of humanity, despite inconclusive evidence. Hope as an affective state may enable us to hold these beliefs despite comparatively low levels of credence. While this violates the evidentialist principle that we should not believe on insufficient evidence, hopeful believing allows us to live richer, more engaged lives.