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Biography

Dr Helen L. Fisher is based in the Social, Genetic & Developmental Psychiatry (SGDP) Centre at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) within King’s. She has a strong interdisciplinary background in psychology, social psychiatry, epidemiology, genetics, and epigenetics. Her multidisciplinary programme of research focuses on the role of social, psychological, biological, and wider environmental factors in the development, course, and prevention of mental health problems in children, adolescents, and young adults.

Dr Fisher completed a BSc in Psychology at the University of Surrey, then a Masters in Research Methods in Psychology at UCL, followed by an MSc in Social, Genetic & Developmental Psychiatry and a PhD in Psychological Medicine at King’s funded by an ESRC-MRC 1+3 Interdisciplinary Studentship. For her PhD research on the interplay between childhood trauma and genetic susceptibility in the onset of psychotic disorder she received the Outstanding Doctoral Research Contributions to Psychology prize from the British Psychological Society. She was subsequently a postdoctoral fellow within the SGDP Centre for 5 years funded by fellowships from the MRC and ESRC before taking up a position as a Lecturer within this Centre in 2014 and has remained there ever since rising to the position of Reader in 2018.

Dr Fisher is also a Chartered Research Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, along with being a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy having completed her Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice in Higher Education in 2013. Additionally, she is a research consultant for the NSPCC children’s charity and provides training on psychosis assessment tools to NHS clinicians. She has received several national and international awards for her research including a recent Emerging Leaders Prize in Adolescent Mental Health from the Medical Research Foundation. As well as her postdoctoral fellowships, she has also held an MQ Fellows Award and a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship.

Research Interests:

  • Role of childhood victimisation in the onset and course of psychosis and depression and the biopsychosocial mechanisms underpinning such associations
  • Individual, family & community-level protective factors for adolescent mental health
  • Social neighbourhood factors and air pollution in relation to mental health
  • Epidemiology, phenomenology, and outcomes of childhood psychotic symptoms
  • Gene-environment interplay
  • Assessment of childhood trauma
  • Early identification of adolescents at risk of depression across the globe

Dr Fisher’s initial research involved evaluating Early Intervention Services for young people with psychosis and then focused on the interplay between childhood maltreatment and genes in the development and course of psychosis. She is currently extending this work to explore the social, psychological, and epigenetic factors that increase and decrease the risk of psychotic experiences persisting during adolescence among children exposed to various forms of adversity using longitudinal cohorts. She is also jointly leading projects exploring epigenetic signatures of exposure to psychosocial stressors in adolescence; biopsychosocial markers of resilience following exposure to childhood maltreatment; the role of air pollution in the development of adolescent mental health problems; and improving detection of adolescents at high risk for depression across four continents.

Teaching:

Dr Fisher provides specialist lectures to a range of postgraduate courses at King’s on the role of social factors (particularly childhood trauma) in the development of psychosis, PTSD within women, and on the methods utilised to investigate the interplay between genetic and environmental factors in relation to mental health problems. She also supervises research dissertations for students undertaking Masters courses in Genetic Environmental & Developmental Psychiatry, Early Intervention in Psychosis, and Developmental Psychology & Psychopathology. Additionally, she runs an online distance learning module in Social, Genetic & Environmental Foundations of Mental Health, and acts as a personal tutor to undergraduate psychology students and Masters students within IoPPN.

Expertise and public speaking:

Dr Fisher is extremely passionate about finding ways to creatively engage the public in thinking about adolescent mental health. For instance, she has consulted on several plays (‘Correspondence’, ‘Grey Man’, ‘Tomorrow I was Always a Lion’, ‘Wake’) to create a more realistic portrayal of severe mental illness in young people and participated in after-show discussions with the audiences. With support from King’s Cultural Institute and MQ, she collaborated with artist Rich Maskey, Jonny Benjamin MBE, and the Voice Collective to develop an immersive art exhibition that was exhibited in January 2017 at the Copeland Gallery in Peckham to increase public understanding of what it feels like to hear voices. A total of 190 people visited the exhibition and it was featured on the BBC World Service (starts 18 mins, 16 secs).

She has also participated in a short film on adolescent psychosis and the city for the Evening Standard and has communicated her research to a range of audiences including A-Level students (BPS events), school children (MRC/Science Museum events), policy-makers (House of Commons), business leaders (Thrive in City at Australia National Bank, and MQ events at HSBC & Howard Kennedy), as well as the public more broadly (through newspapers and the Science Media Centre, podcasts, public talks and panels). Additionally, she recently worked with ChildLine to create psychosis content on their website. This will potentially be seen by their 3,262,245 annual website visitors, and hopefully improve adolescents’ understanding of psychosis, and increase the speed with which they can receive help if they need it.

She is currently co-producing a mental health themed tour of the National Gallery with the McPin Foundation and the NG Young Producers, which is funded by the MRC. This will launch on 10th October 2019 to coincide with World Mental Health Day.

Further details

Please see Helen's Research Staff Profile for further details.