Spotlight on MQ: Breaking the Stigma of Mental Health in Young People

Right now, 1 in 4 people in the UK are living with a mental health condition. Look around you in your next seminar and there might be at least three people suffering with a mental illness. However, we live in a society that perpetuates stigmas about mental health. We live in a society that heightens a romanticised version of the daily struggle of those living with a mental illness. We live in a society that aligns serious medical conditions with the notion of a “phase”; that tells us “you’ll get over it”; that tells us mental illness is “ugly”.

As Alyse Ruriani so aptly puts it: “no one brings flowers when your brain gets sick.” “This is not uncommon,” she notes, “society often pretends that the brain cannot get sick. And if it does, society tells us it’s a secret that must be kept. That is stigma.”

MQ: Transforming Mental Health is an international charity based in the UK, which aims to fund multi-disciplinary research into mental health. Despite extraordinary advances in treating physical health conditions, progress in understanding mental illness, and research into its causes, treatments and prevention, is nowhere near equal. MQ’s mission is to change that.

“We are the first major charity funding much-needed scientific research to transform the lives of everyone affected by mental illness. And with our community of supporters and an international network of talented researchers, we can make this a reality.”

It’s time we became a community of supporters.  On March 15th, Her Campus will be holding a bake sale to help MQ raise money to transform mental health and break the stigma of mental illness. Come and find us in the Portland building, whether you are suffering from a mental illness yourself or just want to support those who are. All proceeds from the bake sale will go to MQ to help fund amazing research like the examples detailed below.

Mental Health Conditions and MQ’s Research

Mental illness can come in a variety of forms - as a result of our own individual genetics, experiences and/or emotions. Below is a concise overview of several mental health conditions prominent in young people and the research MQ is funding to investigate causes, treatments and prevention.


As students, we all have times when we worry: about our exams, our friends, our money, our job prospects, our families. But if you live in a constant state of worry that manifests itself in physical and psychological ways, you may be suffering from generalised anxiety disorder. GAD is a long-term condition that causes you to feel anxious about a wide range of situations and issues. Individuals with GAD feel anxious most days and often struggle to remember a time when they felt relaxed. Symptoms can include feeling restless or worried, having difficulty sleeping, struggling to concentrate, constant uneasiness, irritability and nausea.

MQ Research

Dr. Bronwyn Graham is investigating whether hormone levels can explain why some people respond better to anxiety treatment than others. Women are twice as likely as men to develop anxiety disorders, but little is known about why this is. This study is in the processing of investigating whether natural variations in the hormone oestrogen can alter how women process fear, and testing whether oestrogen can make managing fear more difficult. Significantly, this project has the potential to enable anxiety treatments to be tailored in relation to oestrogen levels, allowing more women, in different personal situations, to cope with their anxiety.


For most people, periods of sadness are short-lived, but for those with depression, the emotional lows are significantly more difficult to overcome. Some people think that depression is trivial and not a genuine health condition. They’re wrong. Depression can affect people in a variety of ways, from lasting feelings of unhappiness and hopelessness, to a loss of interest, and physical symptoms such as fatigue, having a lack of sex drive and no appetite. Depression can be overcome with the right treatment and support, but there is always the risk of the mental illness coming back.

MQ Research

Can new techniques to train attention stop depression from returning? This is the question Ernst Coster and his team at Ghent University are exploring. Ernst’s work will build knowledge of how effective eye-tracking techniques can be as a part of a therapeutic response to depression, and has the potential to fight depression anywhere that people can connect to the Internet.


Schizophrenia is a long-term medical condition. Individuals with schizophrenia may not always be able to distinguish their own thoughts and ideas from reality. Unlike other mental illnesses, schizophrenia usually strikes in young adulthood; most people diagnosed with schizophrenia have their first symptoms in their 20s. According to the DSM-5, “the onset may be abrupt or insidious, but the majority of individuals manifest a slow and gradual development of a variety of clinically significant signs and symptoms.” Symptoms include: hallucinations, muddled thoughts, delusions and changes in behaviour.

MQ Research

Dr Joshua Roffman asks if folic acid holds the clue to reducing the risk of schizophrenia? A lack of folic acid has previously been linked to schizophrenia and, in a previous research project, Joshua and his team showed that some people with the condition struggle to process folic acid. The findings of this study will show if an environmental change – the introduction of folic acid to grain products – has affected the development of the brain. This could lead to more targeted support for people most at risk of schizophrenia.


Around 3% of people live with OCD, compulsively repeating activities to try and deal with the anxiety caused by obsessive thoughts and fears. OCD can develop at any age, but it typically develops around early adulthood. An obsession is an unwanted and unpleasant thought, image or urge that repeatedly enters your mind, causing feelings of anxiety, disgust or unease. A compulsion is a repetitive behaviour or mental act that you feel you need to carry out to try to temporarily relieve the unpleasant feelings brought on by the obsessive thought. Those suffering with OCD are often reluctant to seek out help because they feel embarrassed, but OCD is an illness like any other.

MQ Research

Susanne Ahmari is exploring whether problems in the brain’s circuits – the multiple networks that information in the brain travels along – could be the cause of the symptoms of OCD. This project involves a new technique called optogenetics, which enables researchers to isolate and study specific brain cells. With this new technology, Susanne is working towards a greater understanding of OCD in a way that, until recently, has not been possible.

What you can do

If you think you might be suffering with a mental illness, don’t fall into the trap society has set for you. Reach out. Ask for help. The University of Nottingham offers a free, confidential counselling service for students that is available year round. You can book a counselling consultation online or sign up for a variety of different workshops aimed at tackling a number of issues, from managing stress and anxiety, to improving your self-esteem. 

Our conversations about mental health should go well beyond mental health awareness week. There are a million ways we can support people experiencing mental health issues, talking about them is just one. Swear your support for MQ and those experiencing mental illness here and join Her Campus in the Portland building on March 15th to raise money for the life-changing research this incredible charity is pioneering.

Edited by: Sarah Holmes