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Beyond the Ward: Tackling Mental Health

Fifth year medical student Haridha Pandian wanted to be a teacher, until a work experience day with a doctor prompted a realisation that medicine was the career for her.

In her third year of medicine, a psychiatry placement stimulated her interest in the area. Since then, Haridha has supported fellow students through her work with the mental health charity Nightline, also becoming President of the King’s Psychiatry Society.

Outside the King's community, her commitment has been recognised by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, who named her one of their Psych Stars, awarding her the College's Medical Student of the Year award in 2019.

Supporting student mental health

At the start of medical school Haridha aspired to become a paediatrician, studying an intercalated BSc in Physiology to help achieve her goal. It wasn’t until she had a placement on a psychiatry ward that she saw how integrated and well-rounded the discipline was.

I like how interpersonal and communications skills are at the forefront of this discipline. With psychiatry it is about truly understanding your patients and effective communication itself can be therapeutic!– Haridha Pandian

Linked to her interests, Haridha has spent over 200 hours volunteering with London Nightline. The charity provides a confidential, anonymous listening service, run by students for students, at the University of London and beyond. They open overnight, when other listening services typically close, with trained student call-takers providing peer-to-peer offer support and information.

Reflecting on her experience, Haridha said: "Working as a hotline volunteer for the London Nightline involved taking calls from often distressed people and supporting them in a non-judgemental, empathetic way."

"It broadened my understanding of mental health and wellbeing. As a future doctor, I hope to use the listening skills I’ve gained to make my patients feel as supported as possible."

A woman in a black dress talks into a microphone, making a hand gesture of expression

Expanding research horizons

In 2018, Haridha was awarded a King’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship, exploring the potential benefits of providing specialist psychiatric clinics for older people in geriatric medicine. Haridha's work is on of the first to explore undiagnosed psychiatric illness in the elderly, contributing to health issues, reduced quality of life and mortality. Her research was recently presented at the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ International Congress 2019.

Haridha also contributed to a publication in Molecular Psychiatry, investigating the existence of possible sub-types of schizophrenia, revealed by varied responses to treatments with antipsychotic medication.

During this time, she wrote an editorial for the British Journal of Psychiatry’s Bulletin on the value of student-led psychiatry societies in improving recruitment into the specialty that will be printed in 2020.

King’s Psychiatry Society

In 2018, Haridha became the President of the King’s Psychiatry Society. Set up in 2005, the society promotes and supports students pursuing psychiatry careers, raising the profile of mental health issues amongst all student health professionals.

Under Haridha’s guidance, the Society expanded their membership, launching a book club, and running a successful evening conference in collaboration with the London Division of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

She said: “Being a part of the King’s Psychiatry Society has been one of my favourite parts of medical school. I think this has made me a better student as I have had to develop all sorts of additional leadership and management skills."

"The backing we have had from King’s, in particular the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience in supporting our events, providing speakers and helping us reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness has been amazing.”

Haridha clearly demonstrated her potential as a truly outstanding psychiatrist of the future.– Royal College of Psychiatry judges

Rising 'Psych Star'

In November this year, Haridha was named as Medical Student of the Year by the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

The judges said: “Haridha clearly demonstrated her potential as a truly outstanding psychiatrist of the future. It would be an honour for Haridha to join our profession and there is no doubt she will continue to have a glittering career in psychiatry.”

Haridha is also one of the College's "Psych Stars" this year, a scheme which supports medical students with an interest and commitment to psychiatry to be ambassadors for the discipline. The students receive mentoring and development, and can attend international conferences.


A woman holds a glass award with a man who is presenting it to her
I am truly humbled and honoured to have been awarded the Medical Student of the Year Award. I am particularly grateful to the my many wonderful mentors at King’s who have continually supported my interest in mental health– Haridha Pandian

Looking to the future

In the future, Haridha plans to do her foundation years on a psychiatry ward with an aim to eventually specialise in Child and Adolescent mental health. Ultimately, she wants to work with children with behavioural issues, learning difficulties and eating disorders.

She said: “My aim is to try to unify physical and mental health care provision in the care of children & adolescents. Working with children involves all the best bits of medicine and psychiatry- good communication, adaptability and empathy."

"You get the opportunity to work with so many people including the whole family, teachers, carers and social services, all with the aim of improving a child’s quality of life.”

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