New Year's honour for Wolfson Fellow Ian Goodyer OBE

Ian Goodyer is a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist based at the University of Cambridge. He studies adolescent mental health, treats patients and teaches students in psychiatry and research. He became a Fellow of Wolfson College in 1992. In December 2017 he was awarded an OBE for Services to Psychiatry Research.

How did you find out about the award?

You first receive a letter four weeks in advance, asking if you’d be minded to allow your name to be put forward. My wife was standing with me when I opened the letter, so she knew, and I had to tell my two children as I can’t keep a secret from them. But I did manage to keep it under wraps otherwise.

Were you surprised?

I was astonished. My operational behaviour is local, I haven’t sat on any government committees and I know that nominating someone is quite a lot of work. I think it’s an indication of the importance of research into depression, especially in young people, and its treatment.

What is the main focus of your research?

We are examining the causes of depression through both experimentation and neurological imaging to tease out the factors in the brain that can lead to mental health problems. We know that there are genetic factors, including genes that modulate behaviour. We see metabolic and inflammatory problems in depressed individuals. We have seen with brain imaging that there are differences in the structure of the brain in adolescents with antisocial behaviour. And childhood experiences are critical. These all contribute in complex ways to affect the way that some individuals translate the world into thoughts. We also perform randomised controlled trials of treatment for depression.

What is the state of treatment now?

The last 30 years of research has led up to big benefits, based on understanding the biological basis of mental illness. Normally it takes 10-30 years from idea to therapeutics, but we're actually quite good at treatment, despite not fully understanding the causes of depression. In our group, we have developed a psychosocial treatment that can be implemented in routine mental health services. It is as effective as current treatment, but cheaper. Still, But 20-30% of people don’t respond to treatment and mental illness in youth remain undetected in a majority of cases.

We hear a lot about mental health in young people these days. But are we doing enough?

I am naturally optimistic and I do think we’re about to turn a corner. But we need a policy that is committed to mental health. We need more counsellors in schools, not just ‘first aid’ workers who can detect problems. Detection is good, but intervention is better.

Are all your activities confined to Cambridge?

No, I'm involved with the mental health charity MQ, which funds research into adolescent and child mental health. And I'm also the Chair of the International Advisory Board of the Cundill Centre for Child and Youth Depression in Toronto. So that will keep me busy for a while.

In addition to your research, what other activities do you enjoy?

I’ve always been very sporty. I like to go hill walking and mountain climbing. And I enjoy seeing our one grandchild in Norfolk.