For mental health research, ignorance is not bliss

28 Oct 2016

Prof Jim Lucey. Image: Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland

Prof Jim Lucey, medical director at St. Patrick’s Mental Health Services, tells us about his research and why it is so necessary for mental healthcare today.

Mental health is one of the most meaningful and rewarding areas of medicine. It is fascinating and enlightening, and my enthusiasm for it has not dimmed over 30 years. Mental healthcare is sustained by research. It raises and addresses important questions about disease and disorder; about experience and ethics; about therapeutics, human life and society. These mental health dilemmas are urgent and enduring; compelling and universal.

What can I tell you about my research? Firstly, let me say that my research changed my life and my career.

Back in the late 1980s, when I was a young psychiatrist in training at St. Patrick’s Hospital in Dublin, the late Anthony Clare prompted our hospital governors to establish one of the first research fellowships dedicated to mental health in Ireland. I was one of the early beneficiaries of their foresight and generosity.

This enabled me to complete an MD in neuroendocrinology with Ted Dinan at TCD, and so later with the support of the Welcome Trust, I completed a PhD in neuroimaging, with Robert Kerwin, Isaac Marks and Peter Ell, at the Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London.

‘Research can enlighten and empower recovery for us all’

Now my own personal research activity is much less, but the research activity of our mental health service has become very substantial. We have a dedicated and expanding research department led by Prof Declan McLoughlin, and we have many more researchers from psychological medicine, psychology, nursing and psychotherapy.

With support of funding from the HRB and others, their output is growing; all motivated by the desire to learn and the drive to enliven the service we offer to our patients.

My work as medical director at St Patrick’s, as part of its senior management team, is to manage Ireland’s largest independent mental health service. Our commitment to research makes our mental healthcare more vivid and rewarding, but there is more.

Research is not a luxury or an irrelevance. It matters for the clinicians and it matters for our patients as well. We cannot postpone research [until] another day. The best modern mental healthcare is based on a proper assembly of the evidence. Without research, there is a grave risk of returning to mental healthcare dominated by ideology, social politics and expediency.

Without good research, a decline is the inevitable outcome. Ignorance is not bliss. Research can enlighten and empower recovery for us all.

By Jim Lucey

Prof Jim Lucey is medical director of St. Patrick’s Mental Health Services and Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin. For more than 30 years, he has worked with patients suffering from mental health problems, particularly in the area of assessing, diagnosing and managing OCD and other anxiety disorders. 

A version of this article originally appeared on the Irish Research Council blog.