Dr. Helen Fisher

MQ Fellow 2014 - Dr Helen Fisher, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King's College London.

Psychotic symptoms in children, such as hearing and seeing things that others do not, are far more common than generally recognised - reported in approximately 1 in 10 children at 12 years. They are often distressing to children, but do not always lead to mental illness.  Research does suggest however that these symptoms, particularly if they persist in adolescence, can be a predictor of schizophrenia. The risk is also increased where the symptoms are associated with a history of adverse events in childhood, such as bullying or abuse.

Dr. Fisher will take advantage of Britain’s significant investment in cohort studies in her analysis of three longitudinal studies of children – namely the ALSPAC, CHADS and E-Risk studies - to further explore the developmental course of childhood psychotic symptoms.  These studies have generated rich sets of sample repositories and databases containing (repeated) measures of psychosocial factors, psychotic symptoms and adverse life event reports.

With support from her MQ Fellows Award, Dr Fisher will analyse data from these cohort studies to understand what factors may increase or decrease the risk of psychotic symptoms among children who have been exposed to adverse events. She will also use biosamples to explore whether or not there are changes in how genes are regulated (via epigenetic processes) which can be associated with these findings.  

By simultaneously examining biological, psychological and social aspects of adverse childhood experiences, Dr. Fisher will make a unique contribution to our understanding of the development and trajectory of childhood psychotic symptoms. This will help us to better identify those at risk and target interventions to prevent mental illness and life-threatening behaviours, such as suicide, among the most vulnerable children.

To learn more about Dr. Fisher's innovative research, watch her presentation at MQ's 2015 Annual Science Meeting:



Dr Helen L. Fisher is a Chartered Research Psychologist and Lecturer within the MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King's College London, in the UK. She has a strong interdisciplinary background in psychology, social psychiatry, genetics and epidemiology funded through pre- and post-doctoral fellowships from the UK Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC). Her work has attracted several national awards, including the British Psychological Society Award for Outstanding Doctoral Contributions to Psychology and the British Medical Association Margaret Temple Award for Schizophrenia, as well two international young investigator awards.

Dr Fisher has spent 14 years researching the aetiology and treatment of psychosis in young adults. Her initial research involved evaluating Early Intervention Services for young people with psychosis and then focused on the role of childhood maltreatment in the development and course of psychosis. During her recent MRC Population Health Scientist fellowship, Dr Fisher explored the interplay between childhood adversity and proxy genetic factors on the persistence of psychosis during adolescence and adulthood using population-based longitudinal samples. For her MQ fellowship she will extend this work to explore the social, psychological and epigenetic factors that increase and decrease the risk of psychotic experiences persisting during adolescence amongst children exposed to various forms of adversity (e.g., maltreatment, bullying, witnessing domestic violence).

Last updated: May 11, 2015