Last week I trundled up to Birmingham on the train from my current hometown of Luton to attend the Royal College of Psychiatrists International Congress (RCPsychIC). It’s a four day international conference that around 2000 psychiatrists and other healthcare professionals/people with an interest in psychiatry attend annually.
It ran Sunday to Thursday but I only attended Monday and Tuesday (I get limited study leave!) as I had an audit poster accepted for presentation on the Tuesday.
That sounds way more impressive than it is by the way.
(You put your poster on display in a hall and stand by it during the breaks from the conference for people to walk past and ask you questions about it.)
The set up usually involves a few key note speakers for each day with smaller talks in between where you have the choice to attend one of 5 different sessions. There is usually a wide variety of topics including people explaining their latest academic research, clinical research, quality improvement, latest guidelines, political and ethical issues.
There are also great networking opportunities and chances to meet with other trainees.
I had a great couple of days and will be blogging further about some particular talks I attended but here are a few highlights.
The first breakout session I attended was on the PREVENT strategy. This kicked things off with a very controversial topic it seemed and the room got pretty heated! PREVENT is part of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy. It is a safeguarding programme that works with all areas of the community including healthcare, schools, police, charities etc.
This session was interactive and we had to discuss a fictional case and whether they should be referred to PREVENT or not. There was a panel who did a roleplay of an multi-disciplinary team discussion. At first people were very reluctant to refer to PREVENT as it seemed they didn’t have much experience of it and felt more comfortable referring via the traditional safeguarding route.
There was a lot of debate in this session with many believing that psychiatrists should not be involved in counter terrorism strategies but instead should be treating the mental illness. They felt that often the concerns were secondary to symptoms of mental illness and that it was not right to break confidentiality and damage the doctor-patient relationship. Others felt that we had a duty to protect the public and that we should raise concerns appropriately in the same way we would if it was domestic violence or child safeguarding concerns.
Overall, by the end, just over 50% of people would have referred the patient to PREVENT and it definitely sparked discussion.
Next I went to a session on asylum seeker/refugee mental health. There were some great speakers who were clearly very passionate about their work. First, I learned that the UK is the only country in Europe with indefinite detention centres. I was really saddened to hear this. Dr Katy Briffa spoke first saying that we cannot treat mental illness until the patients have their basic needs met such as shelter, food and safety. She talked about “anticipatory anxiety” and the fact that, although we think people are likely to be suffering from PTSD, often they have experienced complex chronic trauma which is still ongoing as they are worried about being deported. Dr Piyal Sen talked more about the complexities of treating asylum seekers and refugees and the need to take a “helicopter view” of them. Dr Majid then gave advice about the psychiatrist role as an expert witness in immigration cases. Her advice was to be as detailed as possible as this is really appreciated by judges.
Later I saw the keynote speaker Dr Robin Murray talk about the genetic and neurochemical overlap between schizophrenia and bipolar affective disorder which perhaps should mean we see them as part of the same spectrum of illness rather than two dichotomous disorders.
I kicked off the next day with a talk by Dr Altha Stewart on trauma in children. One of the take home messages for me was that we must include children in their treatment plan and break away from a paternalistic approach.
I next went to a session for trainees about getting your work published. Maybe it’s because I haven’t published anything myself but I didn’t know that there were so many predatory publishers trying to trick you into paying money to publish your papers in sham journals!
The journal titles on the left are the sham ones and the right are the legit ones -very similar right?! (Speaker: Dr Steve Kisely)
I found that their tips to getting published appeared to suggest there is inherent disadvantage for people who do not speak English as a first language and another audience member identified that the high costs is also a disadvantage for people from developing countries who want to get published. This is a real concern for me, as it seems there is institutional racism at play in academia which I really think we need to be addressing.
I then attended another key note session on schizophrenia, this time an update from the latest clinical guidelines which I will be discussing in another blog post.
By this point over the two days I was beginning to notice that I had been to a lot more talks from men than I had women which was disappointing. However, it’s almost as though they heard my thoughts as the next two keynote speakers were from women. Firstly Professor Phillips explaining her work on reward pathways in the brain and how they could relate to the disease process of bipolar affective disorder. Then Professor Emily Holmes presented her fascinatingly simple yet remarkable work on using tetris to prevent intrusive images following trauma. They found that distracting someone using a game of tetris following a trauma meant they had much less incidences of intrusive images, one of the key symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This was really interesting as although it only targeted one symptom, I think it has the potential to help us develop possible preventative therapies for PTSD or at the very least, allow us greater understanding of it.
So, finally after 2 days of jam-packed scientific excitement, (and just before my brain exploded) I attended a session on the impact of Brexit on the UK’s mental health workforce. It was a really interesting session and Dr Subodh Dave’s talk on the barriers faced by Black and Minority ethnicity doctors was particularly thought provoking. This session really made me feel more positive about what the Royal College of Psychiatrists is doing to encourage more people to choose psychiatry as a career and to improve retention. We have a long way to go and the truth is that we don’t really know what effect Brexit will have, all we know if we need more doctors, more nurses and more funding urgently in mental health.
Overall I think that regardless of the topic, it is all about the way they are presented. People who were clearly passionate gave the best talks! These sessions are not to explain every detail of your research study including how you analysed the data as to be honest that is pretty dull! It should be about giving people a taster of it so that they can go away and read the intricate details themselves if they need to. Always remember your audience and don’t just be there because it looks good on your CV!
It was a pretty heavy two days with a real variety of topics covered but that really is why I love psychiatry.
So I hope you’ve enjoyed my first blog post, if you’ve made it this far. I promise they will be shorter in future. If you want to know more or have suggestions for topics you want me to blog about, leave a comment or message me on instagram/twitter. Also let me know your experiences of the RCPsychIC if you attended too!