Meet our Plenary Speakers
Dr Ledia Lazeri is the Regional Adviser for Mental Health at the WHO Regional Office for Europe since May 2021. A native of Albania, she trained and worked as a psychiatrist in her home country, having contributed to education of medical students and later on to the national reform of mental health policy and services. Having joined WHO in 2000, Dr Lazeri expanded her scope of work larger in the Balkans region through the Mental Health Project of the Stability Pact in the South Eastern Europe and later on in Turkey where she led a large EU funded WHO project on Improving Services for People with Disabilities. She took up duties as Regional Adviser in May 2021 after a few assignments as WHO Representative to various European countries, the latest of which being Hungary where she led the WHO technical cooperation with the country. In her function as Regional Adviser Dr Lazeri leads a team that brings together expertise in various areas: policy and services, rights and advocacy, communication and promotion in mental health.
Benjamin Perks is the Head of Campaigns and Advocacy in the Division of Global Communications and Advocacy at the United Nations Children’s Fund, based in New York. He previously served in human rights diplomacy roles as the UNICEF Representative and UN Resident Coordinator ad interim to both the Republic of North Macedonia and the Republic of Montenegro. In both capacities he advocated for reforms to fulfill international human rights commitments and realization of the Sustainable Development Goals.He has also served in Georgia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, India and Albania. In Afghanistan he helped to coordinate the Back to School campaign in the Northern part of the country which brought 3 million children, including 1 million girls, into school-most of them for the first times in their lives
He is Senior Fellow at the Jubilee Centre at the University of Birmingham in the UK, which researches education policy on character, social and emotional development of children. He is a member of the Policy Advisory Group on the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children and serves on a number of other bodies
Plenary Session 2 – Towards a new understanding of mental health and wellbeing
Dr Christian Rück is a professor in psychiatry at Karolinska Institutet and a practicing psychiatrist. He is the author of over 140 peer reviewed research articles and recently published the popular science book ”Olyckliga i paradiset -varför mår vi dåligt när allt är så bra” where he discusses the expanding role of the psychiatric diagnoses as a tool to interpret human suffering. His research interests include obsessive-compulsive and related disorders, etiology, genetics, interventions and more recently the topics of exhaustion and suicide.
Dr Vikram Patel is The Pershing Square Professor of Global Health in the Blavatnik Institute's Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He is an adjunct professor at the Public Health Foundation of India, honorary professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and is a co-founder of Sangath, an Indian NGO which won the MacArthur Foundation’s International Prize for Creative and Effective Institutions in 2008 and the WHO Public Health Champion of India award in 2016. He is a co-chair of the Lancet Commission on Reimagining India’s Health System.
Dr Dixon Chibanda, is the founder and CEO of the Friendship Bench. The Friendship Bench programme is a brief psychological intervention delivered by community health workers, it was started in 2006 in Mbare, one of Harare, Zimbabwe’s townships.
In his role as PI, he led the Friendship Bench team through the rigorous exercise of a randomized control trial (RCT) which was able to deliver the evidence of the intervention’s effectiveness which went on to be published in the Journal of American Medicine Association (JAMA). With this backing evidence he has refined, adapted and scaled the intervention up both nationally and internationally.
Dixon is a key player in bringing various stakeholders from local health authorities, health professionals, national and international researchers and donors together to form successful collaborations. Chibanda's research interest focuses on the development of interventions delivered by non-professionals aimed at narrowing the treatment gap for mental, neurological and substance use disorders.
Plenary Session 3: Innovative strategies for closing the treatment gap
Dr Andy Blackwell, Andy Blackwell is a PhD Scientist and Healthcare Technology Entrepreneur, and is the Group Chief Science and Strategy Officer at Ieso Digital Health. Andy believes that the data in our healthcare systems will fuel the discovery of a new generation of better targeted treatments and help eradicate ‘trial and error’ from psychological medicine. Andy trained in cognitive neuroscience and psychology at the University of St Andrews and the University of Cambridge and has worked extensively with neuroscience labs and major pharma, biotech and medical devices companies around the world. Ieso Digital Health is a multi-award winning provider of evidence-based mental health therapy that has pioneered the application of technologies such as deep-learning to improve the accessibility and quality of mental healthcare.
Dr Paul Farrand is Director of the Low Intensity CBT (LICBT) portfolio within Clinical Psychology, Education, Development and Research (CEDAR); Psychology, at the University of Exeter. Within this role he has responsibility for a team of clinical educators delivering commissioned LICBT training for the NHS and involved in developments in countries such as the USA, Saudi Arabia and Sweden. Current research is focussed on LICBT, in particular adapting LICBT interventions to accommodate the needs of different groups including armed forces veterans, the Muslim community in England and Saudi Arabia and in combination with Uppsala University, developing an LICBT approach for informal carers of people with long term physical health conditions. Recent research interests focus on the development and evaluation of a ‘Psychological Practitioner’ workforce to support LICBT interventions and exploring the potential for support to be provided through artificial intelligence. Given his expertise in LICBT, Paul is sole editor of Low Intensity CBT Skills and Interventions: A Practitioners Guide and sits on NHS Expert Advisory Groups for the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme and Psychological Practice in Physical Health Care. Clinically, Paul has worked within the Head and Neck clinical specialism for over 20 years.
Dr Gerhard Andersson, Ph.D. is full professor of Clinical Psychology at Linköping University (appointed 2003), in the Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning, and the Department of Biomedical and Clinical Sciences.
Professor Andersson received his education at Uppsala University, Department of Psychology, and graduated in 1991 (M.Sc. Clinical Psychology). His first Ph.D. was in Clinical Psychology (1995), and his second Ph.D. was in Medicine, Otorhinolaryngology (2000). He did his post-doc at the Department of Psychology, University College, London (1996-1997), working with patients with dizziness and imbalance. In 2010 he completed a B.A. in Theology. He has been guest professor and affiliated researcher at Karolinska Institutet in the Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Psychiatry from 2007 and ownwards. During his whole career Andersson has worked part-time with patients, mainly in audiology but for a period also in psychiatry. He has a part-time position as clinical psychologist at the Department of Audiology, Linköping University Hospital, as a member of the Tinnitus team.
Dr Andrea M. Beetz holds a MA and PhD in Psychology and a PhD in Special Education and works as a professor for special and inclusive education at the IU International University of Applied Sciences. The focus of her research is on attachment theory, attachment based interventions in educational settings and animal-assisted interventions. She has published her research in numerous (>150) articles and book chapters/books covering positive effects of human-animal interactions on stress regulation and activation of the oxytocinsystem, theories and mechanisms explaining positive effects of human-animal interactions and animal-assisted interventions, animal-assisted education/special education, school-dogs, reading with dogs, therapeutic riding and more. As an international expert she has served as a current/former board member of international associations in the field of human-animal interactions like IAHAIO, ISAZ, and ISAAT.
Plenary Session 4 – Social Media Influencers and Apps as a complement, alternative or reason for therapy?
Dr Nick Allen is the Ann Swindells Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Oregon, where he Director of Clinical Training. He is also the co-founder and CEO of Ksana Health Inc, a company whose mission is to use research evidence and modern technology to revolutionize the delivery of mental health care through remote behavioral monitoring and adaptive, continuous behavior change support. His research work has particularly focused on understanding the interactions between multiple risk factors for adolescent onset mental health disorders, and to use these insights to develop innovative approaches to prevention and early intervention. He is the Director of the Center for Digital Mental Health, where his group holds multiple NIH funded grants for work focusing on the use of mobile and wearable technology to monitor risk for poor mental health outcomes including suicide, depression, and bipolar disorder. His group has developed software tools that combine active and passive sensing methods to provide intensive longitudinal assessment of behavior with minimal participant burden. The ultimate aim of these technologies, which are being developed through Ksana Health, is to develop a new generation of “just-in-time” behavioral interventions for early intervention and prevention of mental health problems.
Dr Jacqueline (Jackie) Nesi, PhD is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and a Clinical Psychologist at Rhode Island Hospital. Dr. Nesi’s research examines the role of social media in adolescents’ peer relationships and mental health, with a focus on depression and suicidal thoughts and behavior. Her work has been funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Dr. Nesi earned her undergraduate degree in Psychology at Harvard University and her graduate degree in Clinical Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Nesi is passionate about understanding how and for whom social media use influences adolescents’ mental health, so as to identify and intervene with youth most at risk.
Dr. Madeleine George is a public health research analyst in the Community Health and Implementation Research division at RTI International. Before starting this position, she received a PhD in developmental psychology from Duke University and worked as a research scientist at Purdue University. Her research interests include adolescents’ mental health, risk-taking, relationships, and digital technology use. In particular, she is interested in how the frequency and content of adolescents’ text messages and social media posts relate to their offline behaviors and wellbeing.
Plenary Session 5: Conference Closing: Pathways to lifelong mental wellbeing
Dr Christian Benedict is an associate professor in neuroscience. He has published 150 scientific articles. His group studies the health consequences of sleep and circadian disruption. Work from his sleep lab has uncovered several mechanisms through which sleepdisrupting conditions increase the risk for weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer's
disease. For example, his team has demonstrated that men with chronic sleep disturbances have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease later in life. For
more information, please visit www.benedictlab.org.
Dr Catharine Ward Thompson is Professor of Landscape Architecture and Director of OPENspace - the research centre for inclusive access to outdoor environments - at the University of Edinburgh. Her work focuses on inclusive access to outdoor environments and links between landscape and health. It includes work with children, young people and older people; it covers environment-behaviour interactions, historic landscapes and contemporary needs, and salutogenic environments. She has led several multidisciplinary research collaborations, including a study of links between green space and mental wellbeing in deprived urban areas and longitudinal evaluation of improvements to local woodlands in such communities. Work with older people includes ongoing research on the value of outdoor activity and environmental support that allows people to flourish into very old age. She contributed to WHO’s European Regional office Urban Green Spaces and Health report and has advised on Scottish Government’s Good Places, Better Health initiative and the development of its Place Standard.
Dr Steven C. Hayes is a Nevada Foundation Professor of Psychology in the Behavior Analysis Program at the University of Nevada. An author of 46 books and nearly 675 scientific articles, he is especially known for his work on "Acceptance and Commitment Therapy" or “ACT” which is one of the most widely used and researched new methods of psychological intervention over the last 20 years. Dr. Hayes has received multiple awards, such as the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapy. His popular book Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life for a time was the best-selling self-help book in the United States, and his new book A Liberated Mind has been recently released to wide acclaim. His blogs and TEDx talks have been viewed or read over 3 million times, and he is ranked among the most cited psychologists in the world.
Closing Remarks, The Road Ahead: