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World's first Regius Professor in Psychiatry - Professor Sir Simon Wessely

Posted on 09/05/2017

The world’s first Regius Professorship of Psychiatry was inaugurated this month at a special celebration at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN). Professor Sir Simon Wessely has been appointed to the prestigious role, which is King’s College London’s first ever Regius Professorship.

Diverting from tradition Professor Sir Simon Wessely's inaugural 'lecture' included a panel discussion reflecting on the recent rise in mental disorders in younger people, which Sir Simon said was 'perhaps the first true risk in psychiatric disorders in this country in several generations'.

Chairman of Council at King's Sir Christopher Geidt said: 'A Regius Professorship is an extraordinary distinction which resides most deservedly at King's' and President & Principal Professor Edward Byrne said 'receiving the title of Regius Professor is a rare honour, designed to reflect an exceptionally high standard of teaching and research at an institution. Only 26 Regius Professorships have been granted since the reign of Queen Victoria and King’s is honoured to be awarded the first Regius for King’s and the first in Psychiatry'. He described Sir Simon Wessely as 'one of the most outstanding psychiatrists of his generation'. 

The panel comprised Louise Arseneault, Professor of Developmental Psychology and ESRC Mental Health Leadership Fellow IoPPN, Paul Farmer CBE, Chief Executive Officer Mind, Tessa Harrison, Director of Students and Education, King’s College London and Dr Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief at Lancet Journals.

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Paul Farmer said that 'conversations about mental health are at a level we've never seen before, both privately and publicly' and that 'we need to equip ourselves to have the 'are you okay' conversation and be prepared for the answer to be 'no'.

Professor Louise Arsenault cited loneliness as an important factor in young people's health and said teaching young people 'how to form and maintain friendships is vital for future mental health’.

Tessa Harrison said 'we think we know each other, but we don't. We think we're listening, but we're not. We need to pay attention to each other’. 

Dr Richard Horton said: 'In the past 15 years there has been a revolution in the way we think about health and we must not think about mental health in isolation' and 'adolescent health is neglected and this generation faces unique challenges which must be addressed...18-24 year olds are a huge window of opportunity for mental health - it can change their entire trajectory and the future of society.'

Referring to the collective responsibility of universities to respond to the health and wellbeing of their students, Sir Simon said the IoPPN’s ‘uniqueness is to go one step further, not just to respond to the issues but to define and change them… by carrying out research, providing innovation and shaping policy. In other words doing exactly what we’ve done for the last 100 years and done very well, and that’s why we - and I mean we - have been awarded the Regius Chair.’  

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Matthew Patrick, Chief Executive of SLaM, and Patrick Leman, IoPPN Dean, unveiling the Royal Warrant.

Giving the Vote of Thanks, Professor Sir Robert Lechler cited a number of Sir Simon’s key characteristics as Regius Chair, including his standing as an ‘academic psychiatrist of international distinction’, his position as a ‘powerful ambassador’ for psychiatry and his commitment to integrating mental and physical health care. Sir Robert added that he is ‘absolutely the right person and I can’t think of a better one on the planet… Our expectations of you are high. However your abilities mean that those won’t only be met but I suspect they’ll be far exceeded.’

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