Penny Quinn and Maria Gialama, PhD researchers at the Centre for Mental Health and Community Research (working under the supervision of Prof. Sinead McGilloway), presented part of their work at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society (Northern Ireland Branch) just outside Belfast. Both received very positive feedback on their presentations, verbally and on social media. 

Penny Quinn’s presentation – entitled “Buddies for Life”: helping primary school children build emotional resilience, kindness and empathy” – focused on the findings from an Enterprise Ireland-funded pilot evaluation  of a new school-based, child-led early intervention and prevention programme called the Buddy Bench Aware Programme (BBAP). To date, this programme has been delivered to over 38,000 children in primary schools in Ireland and it aims to promote socioemotional health and behaviours by encouraging and teaching compassion kindness and empathy in the context of childhood friendship. A larger evaluation of the BBAP is currently underway, supported by funding from the Irish Research Council Enterprise Partnership Scheme.

Maria Gialama delivered two presentations, the first of which explored the importance of “Building psychological resilience and promoting post traumatic growth in refugee children post migration”. Maria shared her personal reflections/perspective on the mental health needs of unaccompanied refugee children in Europe. This was based on both her own work as a psychologist with UASC in Lesbos, Greece and recent research developments in the area. The presentation illustrated the magnitude of the current refugee/displacement crisis, whilst also highlighting the multiple adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) children face before/ during their journeys as well as in their host countries. These have been found to have a profound impact on children’s physical and mental health and well-being, thereby creating a challenge for psychologists and mental health professionals to investigate the suitability and effectiveness of interventions for this vulnerable population.

Later in the day, Maria delivered a presentation “Addressing the neuropsychiatric symptoms (NPS) of dementia using non pharmacological interventions”; this provided a critical review of the effectiveness of non-pharmacological interventions used, to date, to manage these symptoms of dementia, while at the same time exploring their impact on caregivers’ distress and overall well-being. Maria argued that such interventions should be considered as the preferred first line treatment approach and offer one of the best ways to manage the cognitive, behavioural and emotional symptoms of dementia.

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