A Colorado native, Michael Zhu Chen is currently reading for an MSc in Global Health Science and Epidemiology at the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. Michael obtained his B.S. from Stanford University, where he conducted neuroscience research investigating the neural circuits that control motivation in the laboratories of Drs. Karl Deisseroth and Liqun Luo and has co-authored multiple publications. Michael also co-founded Synapse, a non-profit organization that provides social support for brain injury patients in communities across the US. Through Synapse, he has seen how a brain injury can affect mental health in addition to physical health and the importance of supportive communities in creating mental health and well-being. Michael is interested in exploring how digital modalities for social connection can be leveraged to provide support for people experiencing mental health issues. He is excited to work on expanding the reach of It Gets Brighter around the world to show people that “it gets brighter.” Michael plans to obtain an MD-PhD and pursue a career that combines clinical practice and research.
Dr. Emma Lawrance | Co-Founder & Former Managing Director
After studies and work ranging from physics to a traveling science circus, Emma is currently studying Clinical Neuroscience at Oxford. She is researching the alterations in learning and decision-making that can accompany anxious and depressive tendencies. Through this she hopes to develop a deeper understanding of the brain’s basis for these disorders to help inform treatment approaches. She has experienced first-hand both how devastating mental illness can be, and also how the power of hope that comes with connections to others and their stories can indeed make things brighter. She believes we can change the conversation around mental illness to better the future for sufferers and their loved ones.
Joshua is an Associate Fellow at the Evidence Based Practice Unit (EPBU) at UCL, and has worked to help develop a strategic approach to digital projects for young people, parents and carers, including a project that he has taken forward with UCL students. He has also helped them develop international links and has worked with the i-THRIVE team. Prior to being a member of EBPU, Joshus has worked as a research consultant at the Canadian Mental Health Association, and was involved in a number of anti-stigmatization campaigns in Ontario, Canada. More recently, Joshua has chaired the Mind Your Head Campaign in Oxford and is the Co-Founder of the It Gets Brighter Campaign. Joshua has completed his PhD in Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and a Canadian Centennial Scholar, and is worked at Mindstrong Health to help expand the company in the UK and EEA as their Partnerships Manager.
Joshua also holds an Honorary Senior Research Associate position at UCL in the Department of Clinical, Education and Health Psychology.
Roxanna is a Swiss-Canadian PhD student in the Medical Science Department at the University of Oxford and joined It Gets Brighter in 2016. She feels that IGB is a great campaign for normalising conversations and clarifying misconceptions people have about mental health and illness. Roxanna is fascinated by the science of the developing brain and especially interested in youth mental health and illness during development. She hopes to develop a youth program with It Gets Brighter.
Jenna Hebert | Blog Manager
Jenna is a PhD student at Oxford in the Department of Psychiatry. She is researching the influence of the body, including diet, the gut, and the immune system, on the brain. Although neuroscientists usually ignore the rest of the body, she hopes that this holistic approach to research will give us a better understanding of how disorders develop and how to keep our brains healthy. Jenna is also an avid writer and blogger, maintaining the It Gets Brighter blog as well as her own blog about neuroscience research.
Ni Xu graduated from School of Medicine, Peking University in 2017. While an undergraduate, Ni joined the It Gets Brighter team and found It Gets Brighter China in 2015, seeking to combat the stigma surrounding mental illnesses and to encourage people to seek treatment. Ni is currently studying for a DPhil in Psychiatry as Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. His research investigates the effects of lithium on mood stability and a wide range of cognitive, neural and physiological indices. He is also receiving psychodynamic psychotherapy training in Tavistock Clinic, London. He hopes to improve the mental well-being holistically. In spare time, Ni likes Chinese calligraphy, Ikebana, playing volleyball.
Ghia Osseiran | Wellbeing Outreach & Lebanon Director
Before starting a PhD in Education at the University of Oxford, Ghia worked for several years in development with the UN. In addition to Oxford, she has lived in Beirut and New York, where she pursued her undergraduate degree at the American University of Beirut and her Master’s at Columbia University. She joined IGB at the inception of the campaign, out of the belief that learning more about mental illness and listening to the stories of others are key to promoting mental health. As an undercover yogini, Ghia’s particular interest in bringing well-being into the conversation stems from her belief in the role of a spiritual practice in sustaining mental health.
Belinda is a researcher at the Klinik und Poliklinik für Kinder- und Jugendpsychiatrie, Psychosomatik und Psychotherapie in Munich and is currently leading a study examining the prevention of depression in children with depressed parents (PRODO) . She is determined to reduce the stigma of mental health problems, especially in young people, and has shared her own message about her personal experiences with anxiety on It Gets Brighter. Belinda is also bringing science and mental health research into the public eye – you can follow her on twitter: @BelindaJPlatt
Vanessa’s research at the University of Oxford explores how the brain reorganises after a stroke and how sufferers can reacquire lost skills. The brain’s extensive capacity to learn throughout life and to recover from disease shows that the every person – including their thoughts and feelings – changes as time goes by. Vanessa would like to connect with people who are suffering from mental illness and tell them that with the right support they can grow again and recover. She previously worked at the Klinik und Poliklinik für Kinder- und Jugendpsychiatrie, Psychosomatik und Psychotherapie in Munich where she supported young people to recover from mental health issues – so that It Gets Brighter!
Jonathan is the co-founder of 52 Stairs Studio and creator of ScribbleMaps. In addition, he is an investor in projects that he believes can have profound effects in both profit and non-profit sectors alike. He has struggled with depression and believes the common belief that individuals struggling with mental illness as being weak or incapable is a stereotype that needs to be eliminated. Jonathan faced depression at the same time he became an Ontario, Canada boxing champion.
Student Minds is the UK’s student mental health charity. They deliver research – driven training and support to equip students to bring about positive change on their campuses through campaigning and facilitating peer support programmes. As a charity built around volunteering, supporting a network of student groups at over 30 universities across the UK, Student Minds are thrilled to be supporting this student – led, innovative campaign to give individuals experiencing mental health difficulties the hope that it gets brighter.
Our Youth Ambassadors
Nicole is committed to making a positive difference in the lives of young people. After overcoming mental health challenges as a young person, in particular anorexia nervosa, Nicole is channelling her energy into motivating other young people to be the best they can be. In 2011, Nicole established The Rogue & Rouge Foundation to reverse the stigmatisation of mental health, body image and self-esteem issues in Australia’s young people. Ms Gibson was a finalist for Young Australian of the Year 2014, one of Australia’s top 100 most influential women, was appointed onto the National Mental Health Commission as the youngest ever commissioner, named as one of Australia’s 2012 Young Social Pioneers and won The Pride of Australia Inspiration Medal in 2014.
Danny Baker is a writer from Sydney, Australia. He’s the author of two books – the mental health bestseller Depression is a Liar (2013), which is a memoir about his struggle and eventual triumph over depression; and a novel called I Will Not Kill Myself, Olivia, which is a story about a love triangle involving a guy, a girl and depression. He’s also a contributor for The Huffington Post, The Elephant Journal, The Good Men Project, The Glow, and numerous other publications.
James is a medical doctor from Melbourne, Australia and a current DPhil student at the University of Oxford. He has a long standing interest in wellbeing research, policy and initiatives in Australia and internationally. He also looks after his own wellbeing by spending as much time as he can on a bike or in a rowing boat.
Henry is studying for his final year of an English degree. He got involved with It Gets Brighter during a year away from university, when he learnt to look after his mental health and speak out about the experience of anxiety. He believes that people can make long-lasting change to their mental health through seeking the help of others. He’d like to help remove the fear that stops us telling someone: “I’m struggling.” After a day in the library, he’s either rowing, writing, dancing or cooking with friends.
As a former youth/reserve team player at Sunderland AFC, Richard has experienced and witnessed the mental stresses of professional sport. After adjusting to life outside of the game, Richard was accepted to Harvard University and graduated in 2013 with a BA in Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology. He has worked with organizations in Uganda and Botswana to help destigmatize HIV/AIDS and is also passionate about reducing stigma and dispelling myths associated with mental illness. He is currently studying for a PhD in Musculoskeletal Sciences at the University of Oxford as a Clarendon Scholar.
Mahmoud Kebbe El Halabi
After obtaining his undergraduate in Biology in 2009, Mahmoud completed another bachelor’s degree in Pharmacy in 2015. He is now the Chief Pharmacist at one of Lebanon’s biggest pharmacies. His constant exposure to the large number of patients with mental disorders and his own personal experience with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) instigated his interest in mental health. Mahmoud believes that change is possible and is dedicated to working to raise awareness and end the stigma around mental health disorders so that talking about mental illness is no longer considered taboo.
Lanier is studying for an MA in History of Design at the Royal College of Art and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, with a focus on the psychology of design and the relationships we form with objects. After years of struggling with anxiety, she wrote a piece for the Harvard Crimson about the importance and personal benefits of talking about mental health. Lanier also believes in the educational and emotional power of art and is committed to increasing access to art and design in rural areas—a goal she developed while working at institutions including The Museum of Modern Art, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and Pace Gallery. Lanier graduated from Harvard University in 2014 with a BA in English and a minor in History of Art and Architecture.
“Kahay! Balaashe “Iichiinmaachilieesh” huuk. My Indian name is “Fortunate with Horses” and my English name is JoRee LaFrance. I am 19-years-old and a member of the Crow Tribe of Montana and reside on the reservation. I am currently a sophomore at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH where I am double-majoring in Environmental Earth Science and Native American Studies. I have always been committed to finding ways to bring change to Indian Country and the Dartmouth Gen-I Project presented an opportunity to just that. I believe that the project is a great way to use my voice and act on my desires to the address problems that hold Native youth back. The Dartmouth Gen-I It Gets Brighter Project and the lives it will affect for the better is a perfect example of why I am pursuing my education and why I aspire to challenge myself. I am hopeful that the project will be the catalyst for a national movement and will encourage Native youth to overcome obstacles so that they chase their dreams because we, as Native youth, have what it takes to turn our dreams into reality.”
Daniel is currently studying for a degree in Experimental Psychology. Having lived with depression in the past, Daniel is keen to spread the message that those facing mental illness are not alone. He believes that with the correct support, those struggling can be empowered to overcome the devastating effects of poor mental health. Daniel has been heavily involved in student welfare at the University of Oxford, and takes care of his own mental health through regular running, yoga and swimming.