Experts to discuss mental health at new online festival

The new Cambridge Festival

Hundreds of prominent figures and experts in the world of science, current affairs and the arts will take part in the new Cambridge Festival. - Credit: Cambridge Festival

To what extent has the coronavirus pandemic impacted teenagers’ mental health and development?

Could a video game help promote mental wellbeing and reduce mental suffering? 

These questions and more are set to be explored during a series of events focussed on our mental health and the brain at the Cambridge Festival, which launches on Monday, March 26 and runs until Sunday, April 4.

University of Cambridge is organising the new Cambridge Festival

University of Cambridge is organising the new Cambridge Festival - Credit: Cambridge Festival

Coordinated by the University of Cambridge, the new festival hosts an extensive programme of over 350 free, online events that tackle many of the critical global challenges affecting us all.

It features hundreds of prominent figures and experts in the world of science, current affairs and the arts.


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The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the world. As societies learn to cope with physical, economic and social uncertainties, and with rising mental health issues related to stress and anxiety, there could hardly be a more apt moment for the Cambridge Festival to present a series of events related to this very topic.

According to a recent Prince's Trust survey, one in four young people feels unable to cope with life.

The University of Cambridge will present a series of online events exploring artificial intelligence during its inaugural...

The University of Cambridge will present a series of online events exploring mental health and the brain during the Cambridge Festival. - Credit: Cambridge Festival 

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In Adolescent Mental Health and Development, on April 3 from 3-4pm, and then all day on April 4, Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, professor of psychology and cognitive neuroscience, discusses the impact of the pandemic on young people’s mental health with BBC Radio Cambridgeshire's Chris Mann.

Professor Blakemore explains why teenagers feel and act the way that they do. She explores how the teenage brain changes and how COVID-19 might be impacting adolescent development and mental health.

Professor Blakemore‘s recent book, Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain, was awarded the Royal Society Book Prize 2018 and the British Psychological Society Book Prize 2020, and was voted Hay Festival Book of the Year 2018.

The inaugural Cambridge Festival brings together the hugely popular Cambridge Science Festival and the Cambridge Festival...

The inaugural Cambridge Festival brings together the hugely popular Cambridge Science Festival and the Cambridge Festival of Ideas - Credit: Cambridge Festival

Speaking ahead of the event, Professor Blakemore said: “Adolescence, which is the period of life between 10 and 24 years, is characterised by heightened sensitivity to social information and need for interaction with peers.

"In the past two decades, neuroscience research has shown that the human brain develops substantially during this period.

"Areas of the social brain undergo significant reorganisation during adolescence, which might reflect a sensitive period for adapting to the social environment.

Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore

Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, who is giving the Adolescent Mental Health talk. - Credit: Supplied by Cambridge Festival

“Public health strategies imposed to reduce the spread of COVID-19, such as lockdowns, school closures and social distancing, have removed many sources of social connection from young people’s lives.

"Such measures could have impact on adolescent development and mental health.

"However, the use of digital technologies and social media, which allow young people to connect with friends virtually, might mitigate some of the potentially harmful effects of social distancing and lockdowns.”

In a related event on April 2 at 5pm, psychologist Charlotte Markey tackles everything young people ever wanted to know about growing up but might have been too shy to ask during Ask the Experts: Body Image and Growing Up Today.

During a pre-recorded video, Professor Markey answers a range of anonymous questions from young people covering what they would most like to know about growing up, any worries or concerns, how their bodies change, and how they can learn to be confident.

Cambridge Festival brings together the Cambridge Science Festival and the Cambridge Festival of Ideas 

Cambridge Festival brings together the Cambridge Science Festival and the Cambridge Festival of Ideas - Credit: Cambridge Festival

In Growing up Insecure on April 3, 1pm to 2pm, a panel of experts discuss their ongoing research into factors that shape the current generation’s mental health and wellbeing.

The session is chaired by Dr Ahmed Hankir, psychiatrist, mental health campaigner, and author of The Wounded Healer.

Speakers include Dr Duncan Astle, a programme leader at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, and Dr Jo-Anne Dillabough, a Reader in the Sociology of Youth and Global Cultures.

Brendan Burchell, Professor in the Social Sciences at the University of Cambridge, speaks about the transition from education to work, issues around youth unemployment in the wake of COVID-19, and the need for good quality work rather than gig working.

Anne-Laura van Harmelen, Professor of Brain, Safety and Resilience at the Institute of Education and Child Studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands, and senior affiliate at the Department of Psychiatry in Cambridge, also discusses her work on the long-term impact of early adversity on development and on resilience.

The University of Cambridge is staging the Cambridge Festival

The University of Cambridge is staging the Cambridge Festival - Credit: Cambridge Festival

Could a video game help promote mental wellbeing and reduce mental suffering?

In Mastering Mental Health Through Video Games on March 27, Professor Paul Fletcher, consultant psychiatrist, Bernard Wolfe, Professor of Health and Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge, and Tameem Antoniades, co-founder and chief creative at Ninja Theory, discuss the development of multi-BAFTA Award-winning videogame Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.

This hugely popular video game resulted from a multidisciplinary collaboration, involving psychiatry research and patients’ lived experiences, to create a thoroughly engaging representation of what psychosis is really like.

Mastering mental health through video games

Mastering mental health through video games is one of the discussions in the Cambridge Festival. - Credit: Ninja Theory Ltd.

Professor Fletcher and Taneem also discuss how they are working together to investigate the use of video games to treat mental ill-health.


View the full programme via www.festival.cam.ac.uk

Many events require pre-booking.


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