My name is Mathew Iverson and I'm a researcher here at the University of Edinburgh.
Mental health is a major concern in Scotland and in the rest of the world, with one in four of us experiencing a mental illness in any year.
In the Pathfinder team we try to shed light on mental illness and its causes and consequences using data.
I lead an exciting project which aims to investigate mental health within families. For example, we know from previous research that living with a depressed parent or partner increases your own risk for developing depression at some point in your life; but how does this happen and what makes a family member more or less at risk than others?
We aim to address these questions by making use of health and administrative data that are already routinely collected by the government and by the NHS. These range from census returns to birth records, to death records, to prescriptions issued by your GP.
We aim to start with a group of individuals born in 1936 who have all had some routinely collected records linked together as part of previous work. For these people we will link together anonymized records to recreate their life course - what sort of circumstances they lived in as a child, whether they were admitted to hospital for a mental health condition, whether they're still alive and so on. We'll then group them with similar data from their spouses and children to create a large secure and anonymous data set spanning two generations.
This sort of data set presents a unique and important opportunity for mental health research. In our project we will use this data to separate out factors specific to an individual from factors shared among the whole family. For example education is unique to the individual, but poverty is often shared among the whole family.
This will help us to get a better picture of what contributes to a person's risk of mental ill health, but it will also let us look at resilience. Although family members might share the same risky circumstances not all of them will go on to develop a mental health condition. What makes some individuals more resilient to adversity than other members of their family?
By better understanding the individual and family factors associated with mental health, we might be able to identify new targets for interventions; ways to help people reduce their risk and build up their resilience ahead of difficult circumstances. Tackling particularly early life factors might have lasting benefits for an individual's mental health and have wider benefits for the whole family.