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Approved Research

The Relationship between Identifiable Health Risk Behaviours and the Development of Severe Mental Illness: A Model of Syndemic Contributors to Severe Mental Illness

Principal Investigator: Professor Simon Gilbody
Approved Research ID: 91042
Approval date: August 10th 2022

Lay summary

We want to find out in what way everyday habits and behaviours actually can change how people with a severe mental illness experience this illness, and, by finding that out, how we can possibly advise people, GPs, and the government in helping people feel better and live a better life they enjoy more in the long term. To do that, we are collecting information on how active a person with one of three specific mental illnesses keeps; how often they spend time outside, like in a garden, park or forest; how well and how much they sleep; whether they smoke or drink alcohol, and if so how much and when or when not; and how resilient they are personally to the bad or sad things that can happen in life, like having to move or losing their job or a loved one dying. We then try to find out how likely for example a highly active person with for example bipolar disorder is to also spend a lot of time outside in a park or garden, and how likely they are to sleep better and more hours during the night, and whether they smoke or drink alcohol (a lot) or not. And then we check whether them being so active changes how bad they feel with regards to their mental illness, and how their mental illness affects them. And we do the same thing for people with schizophrenia and severe depression. The idea behind it is that all these habits and behaviours make another habit or behaviour more or less likely to happen, so a person who is highly active would technically also be less likely to smoke a lot. And smoking a lot makes it very likely that if you have depression, you don't feel very good and experience a lot of negative feelings, more so than a person with depression who doesn't smoke. We'll be working on this for three years, building a blueprint-model on this collection of information, and then test how strong this model is on other datasets. And if we're right and we can find a strong model of influencing behaviours and habits, then we can use this model to help councils and the government give out better information on how to help make people live a healthier and better life for themselves.

Scope extension:

We aim to identify a model of interactions between contributing variables in the form of health risk behaviours and lifestyle habits (addictions, physical activity levels, sleep behaviour, personal resilience levels, exposure to nature) and the development and maintenance of severe mental illnesses (depression, bipolar disorder, psychotic episodes/schizophrenia).  Our aim is to find answers to the following research questions

- What is the relationship between regular physical activity and severe mental illness (negative correlation)?

- What is the relationship between personal resilience and severe mental illness (positive correlation)?

- What is the relationship between exposure to nature and SMI (positive correlation)?

- What is the relationship between the contributors themselves?

- What is the relationship between smoking behaviour, regular physical activity, exposure to nature, and severe mental illness?

- How do each of these behaviours as well as physical health syndemically interact with each other, and influence the development of SMI?

In finding answers to these questions, we hope to work on a syndemic model that can be applied in mental health care settings to facilitate a holistic approach to treating severe mental illness.

In addition to the above-mentioned scope, we want to include dental health into the Syndemic model, and investigate how the interaction between modifiable health behaviours (above described as "lifestyle behaviours") and mental illness is affected by determinants of dental health, as well as how dental health fits into the Syndemic model we are investigating.