Last night I went to a fantastic event run by Pint of Science at The Crown in Bow. Pint of Science is a social enterprise that aims to bring cutting-edge research and new scientific theories to the masses in an informative and entertaining way. In a pub – these people are smart.
They run thought-provoking lectures around the globe in six countries, across twenty one cities, and for three nights each year. They address specific themes, including: matters of the mind; chemistry and physics; understanding our bodies and planet earth. A friend and I decided to go to a session concerned with the correlation between mental health and the immune system, in a session snappily entitled “Smile: it’s in your blood!”
Both having big smiles on our faces (not just because we were in a bar on a school night) we signed up for it and hoped that ‘accessible’ wouldn’t mean we needed a PhD in immunodeficiencies and hypersensitivities to follow the conversation (although I am well-versed in the latter – excessive, undesirable reactions – I can’t watch Watership Down without bawling at the opening credits… I know it’s fiction and a cartoon… But *sniff*).
But our fears were assuaged when greeted by a charming girl who gave us both an official PoS sticker and a nifty test tube souvenir. I enjoyed playing with mine for several minutes and only narrowly avoided drinking from it (to be fair, this particular event was coordinated by my old university and I’m sure I remember drinking shots out of laboratory equipment in the past – which might explain why I now glow in the dark).
So, poisoning narrowly averted, we sat back firstly to listen to Dr Domenico Giacco talk about the links between social relationships, mental illness and effects on the immune system; and then to Dr Fulvio D’Acquisto who spoke about how mood can affect immunity, in particular domestic and interactive changes, such as living within an enriched environment and having access to light, space and stimulation. Both presentations were absolutely fascinating and delivered with energy and verve.
Afterwards there was an opportunity to ask questions. I asked Dr Giacco about barriers to social relationships for people with mental ill health, particularly in terms of the way that society is largely uninformed as to how to interact with people in crisis, but also how that lack of insight serves to stigmatise mental health issues and means we create obstacles when we should do more to understand and to show compassion and concern. I also asked Dr D’Acquisto about the value of the reverse placebo effect, as it would appear from the research there is strong clinical evidence demonstrating a reciprocal relationship between the immune system and mental health, and that maybe it could be advantageous to use that knowledge to empower patients, by supporting them to self-care and to find non-medical ways to boost their mood and improve their health.
Although I can be a bit of an over-enthusiastic floor hog, I received really helpful and considered responses to my questions and memories of the evening were still buzzing around my head hours later. Also some of the organisers caught up with us in the bar afterwards and were really enthusiastic about what PoS is trying to achieve and the fact that people outside of current academia are interested in attending.
In fact, it was so excellent that we are going to another event tomorrow: Models versus Zombies.
In terms of writing – there are scientific (although fictional) aspects of the novel that I am working on at present which link in to the effect of strong emotions on physical ability and the idea of someone coming back from the very brink of clinical death. So I think that PoS 2014 will serve me well this year in terms of expanding my mind, providing inspiration, and just being a thoroughly lovely bunch of people – thanks guys!
Oh and this is my first official post on my brand new blog, so please do feel free to leave a comment, ask a question, or whatever you feel like doing really.