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LOUPS Mental Health Seminar 2017

The OUPS Mental Health Seminar took place at the London School of Economics on Saturday 23rd September 2017.

With tickets sold out for this event the pre-event coffees and teas was a vibrant and busy affair. The event was attended by OU students past and present, post-graduates and OU teaching staff. The meet and greet gave people a chance to catch up with old friends and meet some new faces.

The first lecture was by Professor Frederick Toates. As president of the OUPS and co-developer of several OU psychology modules, Professor Toates’ lectures are keenly attended. This lecture was entitled ‘When brains work right and when they go wrong’. This was a fascinating lecture which opened with Professor Toates describing two bodies of theory on the workings of the brain: ‘The layered (“hierarchical”) control of behaviour’ and the ‘Incentive Motivation Theory’. The brain processes with two systems. System one works mainly on an unconscious level, being instinctive and reacting quickly to situations, whereas system two is conscious, reasoning and slower. Professor Toates spoke about the role of dopamine in the brain in making us ‘want’. We may not necessarily like what this wanting provides and indeed it may not be good for us, however, Dopamine can make us get up and go and can also drive us out of dangerous situations. Conversely, we strive for opioids which are responsible for what we ‘like’. Professor Toates also discussed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, discussing interventions for these conditions, going on to describe the causes of depression from both a biological and an evolutionary perspective and Chevallier’s Social Motivation Theory of Autism. Professor Toates covered a much wider range of topics than this article has space to discuss but this was a fascinating talk which was greatly appreciated by the delegates.

After a coffee break further animated discussion, Dr Gillian Ragsdale began her lecture: ‘Stress: Stone Age minds in modern skulls?’ Dr Ragsdale is an Associate Lecturer in Psychology at the Open University. This was an engaging and entertaining lecture. Dr Ragsdale discussed the demands that modern life puts on people, with many of us chasing several goals at once, which are sometimes unachievable. This can cause us to be stressed. Early humankind often experienced stress but it was usually short lived in intense bursts, however, modern humans experience similar levels of stress regularly on an everyday basis. Amongst many theories and concepts covered Dr Ragsdale drew on research by clinical psychologist Steve Llardi, outlining some interventions which may decrease stress levels, including regular exercise, face-to-face socialising and regularly achieving eight hours sleep. In a room full of busy OU students past and present, eight hours sleep raised a few eyebrows.

After a lively question and answer session with Professor Toates and Dr Ragsdale, we broke for lunch. When we re-convened it was time for Dr Meg-John Barker’s ‘Staying with Our Feelings’ lecture. Dr Meg-John Barker is Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the Open University. Dr Barker’s lecture was collaborative and lively and focused on the benefits of Mindfulness for mental well-being. Dr Barker discussed how society, culture and upbringing can teach us that certain emotions should not be felt and that we have been conditioned to avoid people or situations which we deem to be negative.

Amongst her many wide ranging topics of discussion, Dr Barker discussed the film ‘Inside Out’, considering how it is explicit in its core message about the importance of embracing all of our emotions. Dr Barker linked this to the mindfulness approach which teaches us to acknowledge and accept all of our feelings, focusing on all of our emotions, rather than constantly striving to feel positive or happy.

Overall this was a hugely interesting and informative event which was organised extremely well by the OUPS team. There were lots of opportunities to meet new people and discuss ideas and experiences. The event was a wonderful step into the academic year.

Steve Nealon is a level 3 student on DD317 Advancing Social Psychology

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